Turning the Corner

This is Part 4 of Susan’s story of figuring out her sexuality. For the whole scoop, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

In therapy, I laid out my whole story honestly with another person for the first time.  I talked about my complicated relationship with my girlfriend, I unpacked my questions about my sexuality, and I processed different aspects of growing up in my family and church community.  I confessed my shame and anxiety and my hopes for a life that had outlets for my faith and my longings for intimacy and connection.  She listened and probed, she accepted me, and maybe she even found me likable.  Life didn’t come crashing down.  I came back the next week and the week after that, and slowly I began to build an honest and trusting relationship with another human being.  It was an important rehearsal for how I’d begin to bring people in my life into my story. 

For a few years before starting therapy, I’d also begun to covertly read different books by LGBTQ Christians and queer theologians.  I became familiar with Justin Lee, Wesley Hill, Robert Gagnon, Mark Yarhouse and many others.  I visited several welcoming churches in the area and followed the stories of different high profile personalities who came out.  One of the most influential speakers I heard was David Gushee, who spoke at a small conference in Orange County in 2015 (ironically, my now wife also attended this small gathering unbeknownst to me).  Shortly after this, I read his book, Changing Our Mind, which had a significant impact on me.  By this point, I considered myself affirming of LGBTQ Christians in general, although it would take some time for me to embrace that perspective for myself.

With three of my sisters on our birthday weekend, 2016.

With three of my sisters on our birthday weekend, 2016.

Separating me from leaning into my own sexuality as an LGBTQ Christian was my deep shame.  What surprised me, though, was my slow discovery of the source of this shame.  As I started to bring people into the most vulnerable parts of my story, I began to experience freedom.  People accepted me for who I was, and it became clear that much of my shame was based in my deep fear of rejection. Shame labeled me as all bad. It took people walking with me for me to be able to distinguish between the relational patterns in me that needed to change (like having healthy boundaries), and core parts of me that weren’t actually broken.  I’d had a significant relationship for years that was void of any kind of community that naturally provides feedback and perspective.  Being open about my attraction to women helped me to consider what a healthy relationship might look like; one that was marked by honesty and mutuality and faith. Walking in the light and bringing people into my reality allowed me to see that I needed to grow in walking in wholeness and truth. It also affirmed me as a person capable of deep connection and intimacy.  All of this took years of hard work.

All the things I’d learned in Sunday school, in my years at Biola, and in Christian ministry led me to believe that identifying as an LGBTQ person would result in a rift in my relationship with God.  Instead, what I was experiencing for the first time was that I was able to relate to God in a new and authentic way; that parts of me were opening up to new ways of encountering God.  As my shame gradually subsided, my theology settled into an affirming position that felt congruent with the growth I experienced.  This created the space for me to dream for the first time about what a life could look like with a partner who shared my faith and my values.

With my dog Blanca, 2016.

With my dog Blanca, 2016.

This was a revelation. 

The mere thought of being able to get married would stop me in my tracks at different moments.  I’d smile and begin to imagine all the things people dream about in their adolescence and throughout their twenties: what kind of dress I might wear at my wedding, what songs might be in the program and how I wanted to decorate the venue.  My mindset of mandated celibacy for life had taken so many things off the table for me and now I was trying everything on for size.  It was exhilarating and I daydreamed for hours about what my future could look like.

I also grieved the fallout of this new possibility.  Who wouldn’t attend the wedding?  Who would (or wouldn’t) marry us?  What friends would I lose?  If I met someone and married her, how would we be treated in public?  Would we ever be able totally relax and just be us?  Could I find a wife? Would we be able to attend a church that embraced us?  Would my wife and I ever be able to be integrated into my mostly conservative family?

It was one thing to “struggle with same sex attraction.” Most of the people in my life had room for this and felt compassion for how hard it was for me.  It was another story to begin leaning into my queer orientation and want to find a wife.  Walking in the light with my queer sexuality meant that everyone close to me also had to come to terms with my reality in their own ways.  It would take time for me to learn to be separate of these experiences and allow people to figure out their own process.  For now, though, I was healing. I was getting honest and feeling more and more ready to finally meet someone I wanted to marry.