The year I graduated from college I found out my best friend from high school was a lesbian. That sent me to a place of quiet terror and I didn’t know why. She had never said anything to me about liking girls. There was one time she mentioned that another girl was jealous of me, but I had no idea what that meant at the time. Maybe it was her way of testing the waters. I was too naïve to put two and two together.
I grew up very sheltered from the ways of the world. My family wasn’t religious or protective. I just somehow managed to stay innocent and unaware far longer than my peers. In high school and college I didn’t know what a lesbian was, and I certainly wouldn’t have identified as one because I dated boys. But I never got how girls could be gaga over them. Boys never had that affect on me. I never once swooned over a boy, and flirting was like a foreign language. I remember my dad telling me I was fickle because I could turn off my feelings like a switch. But that wasn’t it. The feelings weren’t really there to begin with. I didn’t know how to fall in love the way other girls did. Not with boys.
But girls, girls fascinated me. It wasn’t sexual or even romantic. I was too naïve or too dissociated from my own body to make that kind of connection. But there was something about girls. I’d be fully invested with them. I was like a golden retriever, loyal and overly attentive. If I ever got into a fight with a close friend, I’d be a wreck. I’d ride my bicycle across town at night to apologize. I’d make mixed tapes of our favorite songs to give to her. I’d be vaguely jealous of her boyfriend.
In college, I was active in campus ministry, and this behavior was labeled as codependent. Codependency was the popular catch phrase for any behavior that wasn’t viewed as normal. I went to a counselor to work on overcoming my codependency, these “unhealthy” emotional attachments. The issues were always framed as emotional or relational problems and blamed on some unknown deficit with my parents. The realm of sexuality never came up. I carried that label of codependency for years and never considered I might be gay.
After sophomore year in college, I had my first sexual experience with my boyfriend. It wasn’t my idea, and the trauma caused me to shut down sexually for a decade. I still dated guys, a couple of them even seriously. It helped immensely that they were good Christian boys. Sex wasn’t an option and that made me feel safe. Still, I kept my distance emotionally. I was acting the part, but my heart was lukewarm at best. And the no sex safety net was helping me hide from my own sexuality.
Over the last decade, I’ve been on the slow journey of discovery. (Late bloomer, I know.) I had my first cognizant crush on a woman and began to realize it wasn’t an outlier for me. The truth finally came home to roost three years ago, when I fell hard and fast for a woman. For the first time in my life I felt the full weight of romantic passion. I felt alive. I felt ashamed. So, just as my best friend from high school hid her feelings from me, I hid mine from this woman for two years. We’d go camping, and I’d lie there beside her in the tent, on fire inside, while she fell asleep unaware. I wanted so badly to kiss her, to touch her, but I couldn’t. I was horrified by what these feelings meant and terrified of being outed as gay. I was also a coward. I would never make the first move like that. I told myself it was for her sake. I wouldn’t cross that line unless I knew she felt the same, but I was kidding myself.
She was desperate to get married and talked about men all the time. So I would too just to have a reason to talk to her. I was lying and I knew it, lying to her and lying to myself. I had all these thoughts and feelings, with an intensity I’d never felt before, but I couldn’t admit to anyone, especially myself, that I was gay. I was neck-deep in denial.
I was still fighting all these feelings of attraction and denial when I got a job at a Christian organization. On the first day I was asked to sign a code of conduct that contained a clause against homosexuality. At that moment I knew. I felt my face get red-hot and my heart race. I knew I couldn’t hide from myself anymore. I was gay. And then I went ahead and signed anyway. Signing that paper made me come to terms with my sexuality. I knew I wouldn’t violate the code. You could be gay, you just couldn’t do gay. I wasn’t in a relationship, but I knew if the woman I adored ever reciprocated, I would quit my job and never look back. That was my conviction, but deep down I knew she’d never reciprocate, so I continued to hide.
I hid until she finally called me out on it. I couldn’t lie to her face, so I admitted my feelings. It wasn’t a glorious profession of love but rather a shamed admission with eyes focused on the table between us. My soul shivered in the exposure of that moment. I was laid bare, undone, vulnerable in the presence of another. Fully defenseless and aware of what was coming. Her rejection severed me. She was furious. She felt betrayed. She questioned everything about our friendship. And she walked away. I don’t know if I blame her for doing that. Still, it felt like the worst breakup ever. I finally admitted I was gay. I was vehemently rejected and abandoned. I was left completely disoriented and flat on my face.
Within a month I was going to a Christian counselor and a secular psychologist. Two therapists. This went on every week for months. I told my Christian counselor immediately about my same-sex attractions, but I kept that secret from my psychologist for eight months. I kept it from him because I knew he’d encourage me to explore my attractions and that terrified me.
But a crazy thing happened. When I started being honest and vulnerable with God about my attractions for women, I didn’t feel a conviction to fight them. I felt peace and a deep acceptance. It didn’t make any sense because everything I’d ever been told meant God would condemn me. But he didn’t. I never felt any condemnation, only confirmation and peace. And love, overwhelming love. As I embraced my sexuality, I started to feel more centered, more comfortable in my own skin, and I found myself experiencing a new level of intimacy with God. He felt so much nearer, and I had never been more aware of being his beloved.
It still seems so ironic. I’m working in the heart of Christian ministry, and this is exactly where I need to be to embrace the truth about my sexuality. No one at work knows, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come out to them. If I do or if I start dating a woman, I will have to leave my job. That code of conduct still stands, and I’m okay with that. I’m not naive enough to believe I could single-handedly change the position of an entire organization. But I also know I will never have to leave Jesus. I’ve learned Christians enforce rules that God doesn’t. I’ve learned that he delights in who I am, in how I’m wired, because he knit me together this way. He’s made it clear to me that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, that I don’t need to be forgiven for it, and that he doesn’t want me to change. He is pleased with the way I am. I was born left-handed, born female, born gay. My sexuality wasn’t my choice. It was his.