Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa
HA note: Haley, Melissa’s spouse, shared her thoughts yesterday. Their courtship and coming out stories have been shared by Melissa on Patheos.
I was homeschooled from kindergarten through adulthood. I was the oldest in a large family, and very sheltered. We had the patriarchal beliefs common in the Christian homeschooling movement, so my role in life was very defined. I liked a lot of things about being a girl, but I sometimes wished I was a boy so I would have more freedom to go places, study something in college etc.
At the same time, I was fine with dressing modestly. The idea of getting male attention wasn’t really that appealing to me. I had a hard time imagining a guy I would feel comfortable submitting to and living with, and yet I had been told from early childhood that someday I would grow up and marry a good Christian man who would protect me from the world and support us financially while I stayed at home and had lots of babies to homeschool.
I wanted to be “right”. I wanted to be approved of. I wanted to fit in with my community and become that older Proverbs 31 Woman that all the younger girls asked for advice. I did the best I could to pay attention and please my parents by being who they wanted me to be. By age 17 I was very depressed, and thought about suicide often. I wanted to get out of my parents’ house and away from the expectations and restrictions so badly. As a female, the only way that was going to happen was when I got married. So whenever we were in places where I could potentially meet eligible young men such as homeschool conferences or homeschool gatherings I would anxiously watch and hope that someone would notice me.
I had no idea gay people existed until I was 14 and reading World Magazine and came across a negative reference to the dangers of “homosexuals”. I asked my mom what homosexual meant, she said it was when two men thought they could be together in the same way a husband and wife are together. It seemed like she thought it was a big deal, a bad thing. Of course at the time I didn’t have any real understanding of sex either. I knew that babies grew in a mothers belly, and I had attended the births of several siblings, so I knew how they got out, but I was still under the impression that sex was a magical transference of seeds needed to start a baby, that happened while you slept in the same bed. I started to suspect there was something more to it when I was reading all the purity books about how amazing sex was after you were married, and how hard it was to stay pure before you were married. If sex was supposedly this amazing, there had to be more to it than just sleeping. I tried looking up sex in the dictionary, but “act of copulation” didn’t help me very much. Eventually when I was almost 17 I found a book in the library that I did not dare to check out, but read as much as I could as fast I could in the corner until it was time to go home. It was here that I first learned about penetrative sex and what an erection was. It didn’t dawn on me that if men could be together, then there was such a thing as gay women as well until a year later.
I may not have known what sex was, or what being gay actually meant, but I knew I had a hard time imagining being with any of the guys I encountered. I hoped that my mom was right, and that god really was going to help locate he perfect guy for me. I did not have friends my age, most of the homeschooling families we knew had much younger children, and we didn’t go to church.
By the time I was 18 I had had enough sexually arousing dreams about women and enough urges to kiss or touch the breasts of friends I hardly knew to start to question if this was normal. My sisters or cousins would talk about celebrity guys who were attractive in their opinion and I didn’t know what to say, so I picked whoever was the most stereotypically masculine to hide the fact that I thought Catherine Zeta Jones was way sexier. I asked my mom what had attracted her to my dad, and when she said his broad shoulders that became what I would say I found attractive when people asked what my “type” was.
Eventually I got up the courage to ask my dad what our beliefs about gay people were supposed to be, I didn’t say I was asking for myself. He told me that homosexuality was caused by an especially disgusting demon, he almost seemed to shudder just thinking about it. My dad claimed to have heard and seen both demons and angels, so I felt that he must know what he was talking about. I was pretty sure I had never encountered a demon, and I had been very careful to follow the rules of the house so as to stay under the “spiritual umbrella of protection” my father provided, so I did not understand how I could have allowed demonic influence into my life. Maybe I wasn’t gay. So I asked about bisexuals, what did we believe regarding them? My dad said they did not really exist, that the only true bisexuals were demonically influenced witches. I knew I wasn’t a witch, and I was too scared to inquire further and give myself away.
So I told myself I was imagining things. This wasn’t really true about me. The only reason I was attracted to women, was because I had zero sexual experience, and the only body I had access to was my own, as soon as I got safely married and had sex, I would be attracted to men like I was supposed to be. I had never read anything that portrayed gay people in a positive light. I had never met a openly gay person, or even seen one to my knowledge. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was sure that getting married would fix it.
The amazing thing is, that only a year after we began going to church, I met someone who I thought was a boy and fell in love. He was tall and had beautiful blue eyes and soft full lips that I so wanted to touch even though we were not allowed. We could talk for hours and he actually listened to and thought about the things I said. I had never had anyone treat me so kindly and respectfully. We had a parent supervised and controlled courtship, and got married after 10 weeks, and only 8 days after kissing for the first time. Basically, I went from having never held hands to having sex in a little over 2 months.
As you can imagine, sex was still an awkward topic. The attractions I thought would magically disappear after marriage, didn’t. I didn’t dare talk too openly about it, but sometimes it worried me. I was happily married, I was attracted to my spouse, but I was still very attracted to women and worried that I was a bad person for feeling the way I did. I had many other detrimental beliefs related to sex as well. I had an understanding that I was obligated to be there to service my husband’s sexual requests whether I felt like it or not. I had always been told that god had designed men with very active sex drives, and that if they were rejected by their wives, men would turn to pornography, or even another woman, and I would have no one to blame but myself. I had no concept of consent. In fact when I was first married I had made a promise to myself that I would never say no to a sexual advance from my husband, even if I was sick or exhausted. I also had a lot of anxiety about my worth being tied to how often my spouse wanted to have sex. When my spouse was too tired or just not really interested in having sex, I worried that I wasn’t attractive enough or wasn’t performing adequately. Sex was often one big ball of worries fear and second guessing.
Five years later I had the surprise of my life when my husband came out to me as transgender. What happened next was a 2 year journey that inspired more growth both in our relationship and as individuals than ever before. We discovered just how much each of us had been hiding from the other for our entire marriage. Shedding that fear of rejection and judgment and being honest is one of the most powerful transformations I have ever experienced. When Haley told me that she needed to transition to female and live as she truly was, I wasn’t really phased, and that fact led me to face my sexuality head on for the first time in my life. Haley was patient, and waited while I read and read and asked her question after question. Eventually when Haley felt ready to transition, we came out publicly to our families and started our marriage over again as a lesbian couple. I couldn’t ask for a better partner or co-parent, and the respect we have for each other has only continued to grow. Reactions were about what we expected, and we were reminded many times over why we had hidden for so long. Some people cut us out of their life and refused to speak to us. People who hadn’t communicated with us for years sent us long emails detailing how wrong and evil we were for making this “choice”. It was exhausting and draining, and I was so grateful that we were adults and financially independent before we had dared to come out.
Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t had to spend so much of my life living someone else’s idea of who I needed to be. It has been quite the task to learn how to relax and just be rather than second guessing every single thing I think, do or say. I also wish I had known how many wonderful supportive people were out there, just waiting to embrace us for exactly who we were. Coming from such an isolating, restrictive and judgmental community growing up, it has been a new experience to meet people from all backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations who are accepting and loving. I have also been surprised by how many people from our old life have come around in some way. My parents in particular come to mind, after a rocky start and 3 months of silent censure, my parents have found the ability to be tolerant. Even though they do not understand or affirm our sexuality or the journey our marriage has taken, they have chosen to try to love us and be with us.
It’s been almost 8 years since we got married, 3 years since Haley came out to me, and 1 year since we came out to the world. I thought we had a unique story, but since telling our story on my blog we have been contacted by so many other couples who married in the closet and stayed together after coming out. There are so many years that we lived in shame, sometimes we can get frustrated with all that time wasted, and pain endured. Only one year in, sometimes it feels like the new goals and dreams will never happen. It’s been a lot of work starting over from ground zero, some days we fall into bed too exhausted to even say goodnight. Sometimes old messages haunt us, telling us that we are not good enough, that we are failures, that who we are is somehow less than. But overall there is something about the honesty of this life that feels really good. We have the story that we do. We came from the background we did, and it took as long as it did for us to overcome the shaming messages and be ok with who we are.
There really is nothing to regret, only a life to live, fully.
your story makes me really happy every time I read it… I’m so glad things worked out for you and continue to do so 🙂 I came from a similar homeschooling background (though not quite as strict/patriarchal) and had to deal with a lot of stuff around gender/sex/relationships too, I can’t even imagine what is must have been like for you and Haley.
Your story is really wonderful. I’m so glad things worked out the way they did. Our sexual attractions really are immutable – you two found each other in spite of every pressure not to. I’ve heard other stories like this – people within the Christian community who are trying to change their sexuality, and find themselves finally attracted to someone of the “right” gender – then they discover the personal is transgender.
I am a Christian myself, and I wish the Christian community as a whole would show the outrage at issues like human trafficing that is directed at homosexuals. I personally think homosexuality/ transgender issues strike at the system of male dominence, and this is why they provoke such viseral responses.
And to think, if Haley had been born as a female, the two of you might never have gotten together, due to your upbringing! Incredible story.
Just wanted to clarify my wording – I meant, if Haley had been assigned female at birth.