Queer in a Courtship: Charis’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 5

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Charis” is a pseudonym. Also by Charis on HA: Hurts Me More Than You: Charis’s Story.

Sitting around the table surrounded by a beautiful family, someone passes me a slice of pie. I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his family, some of the most genuinely caring people I know. I’m happy, having a wonderful day with wonderful people. We played a card game later, laughing and enjoying the fun of competition. His family embraced me with open arms, loved me, wanted my company, and were supportive of my relationship with their son and brother.

This story is as I remember it,  but it isn’t only mine. There are many people who were involved and observed; our friends, family, and community. This is the relationship the way I recall it, and is likely somewhat different than others would remember. I don’t pretend to write everything in perfect accuracy, but simply my experience.

So I’m gay. Like super gay. Discovered boobs and my-life-was-changed-forever gay. 

How in the world did I end up in a heterosexual, super religious courtship? 

Unlike most fundamentalists, my parents were not pushing for courtship. They didn’t really approve of my relationship, but I had just moved out so they couldn’t do much about it. My dad made it clear that he didn’t consent to me getting married. He told me he wouldn’t come to the wedding, let alone walk me down the isle. He said I wasn’t worth “ruining any man’s life.” And all this when I hadn’t even come out. Jeez. You needn’t have worried dad, I have no intention of marrying a dude, and you’re not invited to any ceremony.

How did it all start? I met the young man whom I would get to know at a homeschool speech and debate competition. There were many of these throughout the school year, and the third or fourth time I saw him we talked for several hours. Hitting it off and connecting on a lot of the same angsty issues that young people have, we talk about our values in life and anything and everything else. He asked for my email address. I said yes. We continued our conversation through email, lengthy letters about our thoughts and happenings of life. I was thrilled to have a friend with whom I could be relatively honest, few and far between at this time in my life.

We started meeting for coffee, and going on hikes together. It was on one of these hikes that he asked me about pursuing an intentional relationship, finding out if we were compatible for marriage. I agreed.

I found myself in love with the potential, excited for a bright future. I knew our life together wouldn’t be perfect, or even easy. My past had taught me that. But it was a wonderful feeling all the same. I was walking on air, he liked me! And I liked him too. I came to care for, and more importantly, trust this man. Being honest about my life and the things I was feeling became an incredibly healing and growing experience.

I was a wildly different person at the time from where I am now. I wore ankle length skirts and dresses, stayed covered up as much as possible. My long wavy hair went past my waist. I wore it up in a bun most of the time because I struggled with wondering whether wearing my hair loose was a “stumbling block” for men, or too sexual. Incredibly conservative in the way only an abuse victim can be, trying to protect herself from the world.

I was starting a journey of healing that I couldn’t begin to anticipate at the time.

Spending more time together, we developed our relationship over long walks, phone calls, and continued letters. There were conversations about marriage and parenting. What we believed, what we wanted. He speculated that our chances of a lasting marriage were pretty great. I thought so too. I wanted to do all of the right things, check all the boxes, start new. We would settle down and enjoy life together. It would be wonderful.

Together we visited my family. He took the opportunity to speak individually with my parents and siblings about his intentions for our relationship. I can’t begin to express how courageous this was, and incredibly respectful. Impressed my family, made interactions with them easier, and made it more than clear he cared for me.

We were invited to dinner by a couple from my church that were friends and mentors of mine. It was during this time that I had my first defining moment as a queer person. My friend’s husband asked us, and my boyfriend specifically, about how we would stay physically pure as a couple. I distinctly remember the first part of his response, and nothing after. He said “We will be tempted [sexually] but…” and continued. In this moment I realized I wasn’t “tempted” to be sexually active with my boyfriend. I didn’t want to mess around. “I’m not tempted…” The thought rang over and over in my mind. Thankfully the patriarchal culture I was raised in hadn’t too badly damaged my view of female sexuality. I understood that my lack of desire was a problem. That unlike some in the community taught, a wife should be sexually attracted to her husband. And I wasn’t.

Dear god, now what was I going to do? 

*****

Our courtship eventually ended. It happened suddenly, I don’t actually know what the reasons were, or understand the timing. I was in a conflicted state at the time, both worried about our relationship and comfortable with it. He spoke of desiring to do what was best for my well being, and that continuing to stay together probably wasn’t part of that. I don’t remember much from our conversations the weekend we broke up, but it was over. I took some time to process. Breaking up was a sad thing. But it was wise, I was somewhat relieved, and I didn’t regret it.

I moved forward, growing and exploring my sexuality. I was becoming more and more grateful that we were no longer together as I became involved in the queer community and found my place in it.Turns out a lesbian in a heterosexual relationship is not such a great idea. 🙂

Years later I am happily settled down with my domestic partner, a beautiful woman I love very much. We’re sharing life together, in a relationship of “mutual support, caring, and commitment” like it says on our registration. I’m working on my career, looking at going back to school, and completely out of the closet; all things I never dreamed possible.

I recently happened to see my ex on the bus, and not surprisingly he didn’t recognize me. My head shaved, wearing a suit and tie and a bunch of body jewelry, I look nothing like the person I was so many years ago. I sat there on my commute home contemplating how different life is now than it might have been. I could have been married to a man by now, with a child or two. Still the long-haired, dress-wearing, conservative girl that I was. But that’s not where I am. I’m sitting here on the bus, going home to my partner, happier and more whole than I’ve ever been.

The courtship was a positive experience in my life, but I am grateful it didn’t end in marriage.

The Invisible B: Faith Beauchemin’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 7.48.57 PM

Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Faith Beauchemin’s blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It was originally published on February 2, 2014.

*****

Being bisexual is freedom, and it is invisibility.

I flip-flop between calling myself bisexual and pansexual.  Bi is the word everyone knows. Pansexual doesn’t leave anyone out.  And you see, I don’t care what your gender or lack thereof is.  I’m attracted to people, not genders or genitals.

That doesn’t mean I’m attracted to every single person.  It doesn’t mean I have crushes on everyone I hang out with.  It doesn’t mean I’ll go home with just anyone.  All it means is that I could potentially be with a person who lies anywhere on or off the gender spectrum.

To be quite honest, I didn’t know pansexuality even existed up until very recently.  When I was a fundamentalist, the “being gay is a choice” narrative sort of made sense to me.  I mean, everyone had the ability to be attracted to everyone, right?  I read a Christian modesty book which claimed that everyone is “drawn to the female form” because it is just objectively beautiful.  So I figured I must be straight because I knew I was in fact attracted to men, and any pleasure I found in female beauty was artistic, it had nothing at all to do with sexuality.  Besides, all the Christian dating books had a tiny appendix tucked in the back that warned of the dangers of predatory college lesbians.  So, I knew lesbianism existed but all of my associations were totally negative.

Even when I was less naïve, even when I started thinking people were born homosexual and that most gays and lesbians (like most straight people) were not predators, I still didn’t realize that bisexuality actually existed.  “Bicurious” was a term I was aware of, but I thought it was a descriptor of an in-between phase, a transition between heterosexuality and homosexuality.  So therefore, since I was definitely attracted to men, I couldn’t possibly be a lesbian.  Simple as that.  There was no other option.  Monosexism was all I knew.

And that is what I mean when I say bisexuality is invisibility.

We get erased a lot.  The biggest problem is what I term “Schrodinger’s bisexual” which is that a person is perceived as either straight or gay depending on who they’re in a relationship with.  I’m dating a man right now, therefore everybody assumes I’m straight.  You can’t typically determine bisexuality by just one interaction with a person, by one specific point in time.  It doesn’t help that a lot of people talk about bisexuals as though they are “switching” between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

Of course as a woman especially I am sometimes permitted the total opposite of erasure, and that is performance.  Men like the idea of a bisexual woman because their first thought is often of having a threeway.  One night in a bar, a girl kissed me, and immediately a man walked up from across the room and said, “Mind if I join in?”  Visions of a porn-worthy fuckfest dancing in his head, no doubt.  Later, I tried to say something to a friend about how frustrating it is that no one thinks you’re bi unless you’ve actually had a homosexual experience, and he just jokingly spun a scenario where I and another woman would have sex and he would film it.

This goes back to the overarching issue of female sexuality being owned by men.  If we are not having sex with them, we must at least be performing for their gaze.  That’s why most threesome porn is FFM.  That’s why a lot of men think that bisexual women exist to have threesomes with them, and that lesbian women could be “cured” by their magical dicks. And that is all such bullshit.  My sexuality, whatever it is, is mine.

But the seemingly fluid pansexual approach is in fact deemed everybody’s property.  More than anyone else’s, my sort of sexuality is approached with doubt.  Everyone makes assumptions and gets to speculate about the causes and motivations behind my sexuality (no, I am not just “greedy” and I am not going to try to fuck you. No I am not disease-ridden or commitment-phobic. No I’m not going to cheat on my partner).

It’s a reminder to everyone of how truly queer-phobic our society still is. 

We’ll (grudgingly, gradually) accept gay people as long as they want to be just like straight people.  We might potentially on a good day accept one or two trans people, as long as they have had whatever surgery we deem “necessary” for them to pass as cis.  But anyone who is genderqueer, agender, or pansexual is met with flat-out denial of their self-identification.  “You’re lying.” “You’re confused.” “You just want attention.”

Do I though? No more than anyone else.  I hate the fact that being honest about myself means I’ll get extra attention.  But we haven’t reached a truly all-point-on-the-spectrum accepting utopia yet. In fact we’re pretty far from it.

So what’s it like being pansexual?

I’m not exactly sure.  I’ve never been anything else.  What’s sexuality like for all of you out there who are monosexual?

It was truly liberating, though, admitting it to myself.  It was truly liberating learning that pansexuality exists.  I used to fight my attraction to women, not so much because I thought it was “sinful” (because yes the story of my sexuality is also concurrent, though not especially related, to my deconversion) as because I thought if I gave in to it I would have to get rid of my attraction to men.

When I understood that it is possible, acceptable, and even (for me) normal to be attracted to all types of people, it came as a great relief.

For the first time, I was no longer trying to fit my sexuality into any mold that society had built for it.  I could like what and who I liked, without feeling guilty or needing to repress anything.

Due to circumstances and the timing of me finally coming out to myself, I have never had sex with anyone but men.  It’s not really a point of bitterness for me, I don’t have to experience sex with all types of people to know my orientation (much like virgins often know their own orientations before ever having sex of any kind).  Right now I’m happily in a relationship and I don’t see that changing any time soon.  If I die never having had sex with anyone but men, I won’t feel like I was robbed, and I will still be pansexual.

Of course there is a lot of work to be done, to make this world a better and more accepting place for those who are not heterosexual or cisgender.  But “they” are right: coming out is the first step.  Coming out to yourself, to embrace freedom, and coming out to everyone else, to combat invisibility.

This is me taking that first step.

*****

Faith has an open call for stories on Roses and Revolutionaries for individuals that do not fit in the gay/straight binary. If you are interested in participating in that series, read more here. 

7 Ways Christian Homeschooling Parents Can Support LGBT Kids: Theo’s Thoughts

picture-91

Theo blogs at The Neon God They Made.

Some background for consideration: I am a homeschool graduate, now in college. I identify (right now) as queer and trans*. I no longer practice my parents’ religion, but I grew up in a conservative-evangelical Christian community. Certain aspects of that culture have not only made it difficult for me to understand and accept myself, but also deeply harmed my relationship with my parents.

I realize that Christian/homeschooling parents may not be eager to take parenting advice from someone like me, someone who turned out very differently than my own parents expected and hoped I would, but — my parents did their best to give me a Christian education. To raise me to serve Jesus.

I became who I am anyway, in spite of their efforts to control my future. I hope that parents in this culture can try hard to listen to the stories my peers are bravely sharing, so we can work together to build healthier, respectful relationships.

Speaking as a member of the LGBT community, a child of evangelical Christians, and a homeschool grad, the best advice I can give parents struggling to come to terms with their child’s differentness is to listen without condemning. Even if it goes against what you’ve been taught. If you want to maintain a relationship with your kid, you’re going to have to learn how to let go of your expectations for them. They’re going to be who they are anyway, with or without your acceptance.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of things you can do as a Christian/homeschooling parent to actively support LGBT youth in general and your kids specifically, however they identify — just a few things that would have dramatically improved my self-image and my relationship with my parents.

______________________________________________________________________________

(1) Create an environment of approachability.

Employ positive parenting techniques so we can learn how to be confident and capable from a young age. If you teach us to conform or else, you’re teaching us to shut ourselves off from you in order to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a real threat, regardless of your actual intentions. Our relationship with you will suffer, and we may also suffer long-term emotional consequences.

(2) When you tell us that you love us “no matter what,’’ prove it.

Don’t undermine our trust by simultaneously expressing hateful views of others. If we catch you lining up at Chik-Fil-A to protest federal protection of LGBT employees or cracking transphobic jokes, we will determine that your love for us is very conditional indeed.

(3) If you want to raise us with a knowledge of Christianity, do some research into textual criticism.

Catch up on the latest theological scholarship. Educate yourself so you can distinguish between what’s good and helpful, and what’s overly simplistic, lacking in nuance, or downright harmful. If this is uncomfortable for you, remember that many Christians — in fact, entire denominations — have found that being open to new information has led to a richer, more vibrant faith.

(4) If attending church is important to you, make sure our church home is a loving, accepting community, in theology, theory, and practice.

If it’s not consistently encouraging you to love more, if it’s sending mixed messages or advocates a systemic hierarchy wherein queer people are “rightly” treated as subpar humans, even in subtle ways, it’s not a safe community for us.

(5) Thoroughly research Christian textbooks before you purchase them.

Don’t blindly accept curricula just because it has “godly” and “biblical” stamped all over the cover. (This might require you to confront other assumptions, like theories of origins or structures of society.) Unfortunately, many of the big names in Christian-homeschool publishing are pushing a very specific political agenda that does kids a big disservice by discouraging and suppressing critical thinking skills.

(6) Treat other LGBT people in your life with kindness and respect.

Make our home a safe zone for our queer friends. Stand up for us. When we’re bullied, when we’re discriminated against, when “authority” figures in our world act with arrogance and hate. Be proactive in supporting political policy, at all levels of government, that seeks to protect LGBT people from discrimination and hate crimes.

(7) Don’t interpret any point of divergence as a personal attack.

We love you, but we are not you, just as you differ from your own parents. Everyone has the right to express themselves and make their own life choices. If we grow into happy, healthy, functioning adults, you should see that as a sign of success! You’ve done your job well.

Homeschooled and Kept Ignorant, But Still Queer: Melissa

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.

The Queer Elder’s Son: George

The Queer Elder’s Son: George

Trigger warnings: this story contains brief references to molestation.

Hi, I’m George, and I’m a queer man who was homeschooled.  And guess what?  For me, it wasn’t all that bad.  Yes, within the conservative Christian community I was raised in, complete with the requisite Bill Gothard character studies and HSLDA membership, I actually turned out okay.  How is this possible?  Let’s take a look.

I’ve never attended a public school.  I stayed at home and was taught by my mother from a self-created curriculum from kindergarten through senior year of high school.  During this period, my family attended a series of churches, trying to find the correct mix of the fundamentalism my mother sought and deism my father was attracted to.  Surprisingly, this meant a lot of different churches including one ill-fated and ill-advised attempt at creating our own.

We’ll start with some of the ugly stuff.  Like most in my situation, sexuality was always correlated directly with shame.  We never, ever spoke of sex.  I found out about it when I was ten years old and reading the encyclopedia article on vaginas.  The line “insertion of the penis into the vagina” was the most detail I got, later telling my parents who laughed, asked if I had questions, and never spoke of it again.  The secrecy and taboo nature of sex led to me being more than slightly obsessed with it.  However, the idea of purity had been ground into my mind, and I remember flagellating myself after masturbating for the first time, thinking I had left my purity behind.  No God could love someone like me.  But the confusion of sex as being ugly — after all, God struck down that man who ejaculated on the ground — and somehow ‘good’ was something my mind was unable to rectify.

I still hesitate when trying to find words for what happened next.  The simplest explanation is often the best.  While at a Christian summer camp, I was molested by a male counsellor over the course of a three-week session.  He was in his late teens and while what occurred between us wasn’t rape, it obviously wasn’t consensual sex either.  I came away from the experience with two major problems.

First, my purity was definitely gone now.  What I had done with that man meant I was officially damned to hell.  It was over.  Could I even go to heaven now that I’d lost that part of myself?  I figured the answer was no.

Second, I enjoyed it physically.  I found myself attracted to him.  Him, a man.  I was a homeschooled preteen, and thus the idea of homosexuality didn’t even make sense to me.  But it was obviously not normal and not something men were meant to feel for men.

For mostly the second reason, I kept it a secret.  And the next year?  I went back to the same camp, he was still there, and we picked back up where we had been.  This move I did regret afterwards, serving myself up to him so obviously.

So that year I decided to tell.

This is probably the lowest point of this tale, the part where things suddenly screech to a halt.  My mother told me she did not believe me, it was too ridiculous to think the person I was specifically singling out had done what I was saying.  So I slammed it back inside and did not speak of it again for years (this post is around the fourth time I’ve ‘said’ it in the last fifteen years).

Unfortunately this didn’t mean the attraction to boys went away.  Which was a problem, especially once I found the terms to label it.

Sitting through long discussions of purity?  Of how to remain like Timothy or Titus or some other short book of the Bible?  I had already committed the sin of Onan, with another man.  How on earth was I supposed to return to a time before that all happened?  So I settled for keeping it quiet.

Fast forward a few years, to my first same-age homosexual encounter.  In an extremely conservative Christian organization, I attended an annual ‘summit’ of sorts.  Boys and girls were kept very separate for propriety’s sake.  I am unsure how the organizers didn’t see how this would backfire, as it led to me and several others initiating activity which was just a ‘joke’ and ‘so gay lol’.  I do wonder about those men, some of them now married with children being raised in the heart of southern baptist ministries.

This was when I decided to embrace my sexuality.  I had only one life.  The shame I felt about it?  Still present.  Always present.  Knowing God hated me.  But he had hated me since the first moment I had had hands lain on me back at summer camp, so what did it matter any more?

I manifested this choice in several overt ways.  I began to dress much more flamboyantly, with bright colors, patterns, and the occasional piece of non-gender-appropriate clothing worn in public, even to church.  I started to spend time grooming myself, discussing personal hygiene with ‘the girls’ and loving the camaraderie we shared.  My male friends dropped away one by one, until none were left, which was picked up on by the homeschooling community we were a part of.  My mother was a leader in it, my father an elder in a church with a few thousand congregants who all paid close attention to his kids.

The son showing up in makeup, flares, and paisley?  With a sash?!  Yes, it was noticed.  The boy who was quickly becoming ‘one of the girls’?  Oh, very much noticed.

People whispered.  People talked.  I wasn’t invited to so many messianic seder celebrations any more, but I could handle it.  Because I was already damned to Hell!

But soon the girls weren’t allowed to be my friend either.  The more conservative families pulled away entirely, leaving my own siblings without close friends.

Finally my parents had two very different conversations with me.

My father sat me down and requested very plainly that I not come out of the closet.  He said if I did, he would cut off ties with me.  But otherwise, I was free to live my life.  There was no preface at all, it was said during a car ride to get groceries, and I guess my desire to self-destruct had reached a point where he felt it necessary to say something.  I told him I was still into girls, and his smirk made me want to prove him wrong.

Within the same week, my mother and I were baking together (yes, a homeschooled son allowed to help prepare family dinner!) when she asked me if I was gay.  She quickly followed with “because it seems like you really want people to think you are.”  I told her I sort of was and sort of wasn’t.  I just liked expressing myself.

My mother, a friend of Michael Farris, worshipper of Francis Schaeffer, former pal of Doug Phillips, said she just wanted me to be happy.

We had Bible studies every morning still.  I read about how much Jesus loved those who were as fucked up as me, obviously lacking the belief that this was true.  My parents loved me, and still love me.

Shortly, my father was removed from the board of elders of our church.  We were still welcome to attend, but not to hold leadership or serve in any particular area of ministry.  The hunt for a new church began quickly, settling on a liberal Presbyterian congregation that left me with less of a desire to rub my sexuality in everyone’s face.

Prior to enrolling in college, I dated a Good Christian Girl for a year to make my family happy.  We did it all the right way, asking about courtship, allowing her father to have some level of control (my own father terrified of messing up what seemed like the perfect ‘out’ for him with regards to his gay son), and keeping things very chaste.  After our breakup, my mother asked if we had ever kissed, and seemed disappointed when I said no.  Seemed like that wasn’t the cure, but she had hopes still.

I dated another girl in college, one I got much more physical with, though not to the point of full-on sex, as we were at a conservative Christian school and she wanted to preserve her ‘purity’ for marriage.  I was aware mine was gone and didn’t believe in the magic ability to restore virginity, so I broke up with her rather than break her heart with the truth of me.

I remained celibate for the next two years, toning down my flamboyancy and joining a church’s youth ministry where I quickly became a favorite of the kids and a hot item for the single ladies seeking a man to produce a quiver full with.  I think perhaps browsing my old Facebook photos was enough for them to know it probably wasn’t going to happen.

The period of celibacy brought great joy to my parents.  Perhaps I wouldn’t turn out gay, just maybe.  I had dated two girls after all.  I was just a bit more…out there than most men.

When I started dating my most recent partner, a black male poet from Brooklyn, I kind of figured it was time to admit something to myself.  But my Dad’s words about coming out still rung in my head, and I kept it quiet.

That relationship ended without anyone ever hearing about it.

Shortly thereafter I moved far from my family’s location.  Dated a couple other men, a couple other women.  Kept it quiet and out of their earshot (except for my mother, who once asked specifically about my ‘special friend’, who she found endearing).

The shame is still there.  The desire to hide it is still there.  Most of my siblings don’t even know I’ve dated men, much less several men.

I wonder where I’d be had it not been for that summer camp.  I wonder if my belief in purity would have resulted in many more years of repression or would have resulted in me being able to maintain a heterosexual relationship?

But those value judgements are for people who desire to make value judgements.  I’m past that.

My parents still love me.  They are from a different time, a different age, and aren’t quite able to cope with the entire truth.  But they know who their son is, and they love him anyway.  They love him enough to lose friends, to be removed from a church, to question their own deep biases.  Sure, things could be better.  But they could also be a lot worse.

Mostly, I worry about those who are less happy than me.

Is my story the picture of perfection?  No, not at all.

But I’m finding ways to like myself.  Finding ways to believe in something that brings me joy rather than pain.

I’m here, I’m queer, I was homeschooled and I’m not ashamed.

LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah

LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah 

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Deborah” is a pseudonym.

I grew up hearing a great deal about how evil gay people were and how the whole world was going to be destroyed either directly by them or by God because “the righteous” didn’t murder all of “the gays”.  So I thought I knew what it meant to be gay and really didn’t care if that was different from transgender, queer, or any number of other terms I heard.  In fact, none of these terms mattered all that much to me because (forgive my even using the term) I just lumped them all together and called them “sodomites” and figured that they were all pedophiles as well.

Then one day I began to realize that these were real, live people I was talking about in such hateful terms and would have treated like trash if I had met them.  These same people with hopes and dreams and feelings were really just as human as straight people were.  At that point, I decided to meet some of these people, do some research, and see what was really going on with them.  It was very awkward at first.  I knew I had to put away the offensive words, but I really didn’t know what was or wasn’t offensive or what the non-offensive words meant.  Thankfully, I had some patient friends who walked me through all of that.

If you relate to this dilemma, let me help you out.  Here is my little friend, The Genderbread Person 2.0

Genderbread-2.1

I know it is confusing at first.  You may notice that each category is on a continuum.  That is because these things are not completely black and white.

Gender Identity: Here we have the most commonly known terms “male” and “female” as well as other possibilities.  This is a person’s truest gender and can only be determined by that person.  Always, when referring to people, use words that line up with their gender identity. If that is unknown or they identify as something like “genderqueer” or “genderless” then gender neutral pronouns  such as “ze” or “zir” may be appropriate.  It is never ok to call a person “it”.

Gender Expression: Not to be confused with biological gender or gender identity, gender expression refers to outward things such as clothing, hairstyle, and mannerisms.

Butch: gender expression that is toward the masculine side

Femme: gender expression that is toward the feminine side

Androgynous: gender expression that has characteristics of both the masculine and the feminine

Gender Neutral: gender expression that is neither characteristically masculine nor feminine

Biological Gender: This is a person’s physical gender. While we generally refer to people in terms of male and female, some people don’t fit very well into either category.   We are not all born with clearly male or female genitalia.  Those who have both male and female physical characteristics at birth are said to be “intersex”.   (Here is where I discourage use of the term “hermaphrodite”, which is no longer appropriate.)

Attracted to: (Also often referred to as “sexual orientation”) Just like the heading says, it really is all about who you are attracted to.   Please don’t question someone’s sexual orientation.  If you say you are hungry for tacos, it would just be silly to tell you that you really want lasagna.

Straight: a person who is generally attracted to people of the “opposite” gender.

Lesbian: a woman who is generally attracted to women.

Gay: a man who is generally attracted to men.  (“Gay” is also used when referring to lesbians.  Lesbians are gay, but gay men are not lesbians.)

Bisexual: a person who is attracted to both men and women.

Pansexual: someone who can be attracted to people of any biological gender or gender identity.

Asexual: someone who has little to no sexual attraction to anyone.  Again, please do not question this.  If you say you are not hungry, it would be rude of me to say that you have just never tried good food or don’t know what you like or want.  Also, do not say that most women are asexual.  This is untrue and offensive.

And now for some other terms that you may be wondering about.

LGBTQ: This refers to the subset of humans who do not fit the mold of  “cisgender person who is only attracted to persons of the opposite gender”. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning. There are other acronyms such as QUILTBAG, and sometimes people will leave out a letter or two that they don’t like. I hate to say it but there are some in the LGBTQ community who, in spite of everything they have experienced, have a hard time accepting those unlike themselves. Personally, I think the entire culture is becoming more accepting and that includes the queer community. GLBT is the same as LGBT, just with a couple letters switched. I’m sorry I can’t cover the whole queer alphabet soup, so if you hear something and wonder about it, there is always Google.

Cisgendered: a person whose biological gender and gender identity match from birth.

Transgender: a person whose biological gender at birth is different from their gender identity. Transgender persons may be Male to Female (MTF) meaning that their biological gender at birth was male, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is female; or Female to Male (FTM) meaning that their biological gender at birth was female, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is male.  “Gender dysphoria” is the term for the negative feelings a transgender person has toward their biological gender before transitioning.  This feels much the same way a cisgendered person would if they woke up one day and found that their gender had changed while they slept.  The difference would be that the transgender individual would be expecting to wake up in the wrong body – so there might be somewhat less screaming from shock involved.

When referring to a transgender person, always use terms associated with their gender identity, not their biological gender.  Terms like “he-she” or “shemale” are completely unacceptable in this context.  They tend to imply that the person is a sex-worker.  Transgender persons often dress based on their gender identity, take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and have surgery so that their body matches their gender identity.  It is impolite to ask them where they are at in the process or for details on how these things work.  If you want information on what transgender individuals go through physically, look it up.  Would it be appropriate if I asked you what your genitals look like and what hormones you have in your body?

Queer: used as an umbrella term to cover anyone who is not exactly straight and cisgendered.  Some people still feel negative vibes are associated with this word, so I personally would not use it to refer to an individual unless they first used it to refer to themselves.   It can be used to refer to the whole community when alphabet soup gets tedious.

A: This is another letter that is sometimes added to the alphabet soup.  It stands for Allies.  If you are straight and cisgendered, but support equal rights for all, you are an Ally.  Wear the title proudly.  (Just please don’t try to make yourself sound cool by using this title if you don’t actually support anti-discrimination laws and gay marriage. Many in the community can respect you for being on the fence or even not wanting these laws, but don’t try to pretend you are doing us favors simply because you don’t use cruel language or don’t tell people we should be killed.  It shows that you have no idea what it is like to be us.) If you are an ally, we welcome you to the community and thank you for your support.

If you are still a little worried that you will use the wrong word at the wrong time, take heart.  The important thing is that people know you are trying to choose kind and appropriate words. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you make a mistake or ask if you are not sure about something. If you don’t insist on using offensive language, most people are more than willing to overlook a few mistakes.

Ok, wow! If you made it through all of that, you deserve a little fun.  A friend showed me this. Maybe you will like it.  If you have an iphone, take it out, press and hold the button, then ask, “Siri, are you a boy or a girl?”  Siri will likely say something along the lines of, “Animals and nouns have genders.  I do not.”  It is easy to imagine Siri as a woman because ze has a “woman’s voice”  in English (American).  If, however, you  switch to English (United Kingdom) ze suddenly has a “man’s voice”.  While I have a tendency to prefer thinking of zir as a woman, ze is genderless. I now respect Siri’s gender identity and use gender neutral pronouns.