A Guest Post by Molly
Growing up gay in a conservative Christian household certainly can be challenging. The teen suicide rate can tell you that much. As a gay adult, looking back on my upbringing, I have much to be thankful for. My mother, especially, did everything she could to make sure my expression of who I was could be embraced whenever possible. As much as I loved being a girl, most of my interests aligned with the boys in my class, including their later interest in girls. This included allowing me to run around topless well into my elementary years and (almost) never forcing me into a dress. In addition to clothing choices, this little lesbian had it pretty good. Never was I bullied by peers or shamed by my family. Any attempts at belittling my tomboyish ways to my face were met with shrugs or smirks. Apparently teasing me was not much fun.
It seems to me that The Church is obsessed with sex and fear. What appears to be an preference toward abstinence has exploded into perverse rituals such as Purity Balls and degrading, ignorant acts like victim blaming. How one’s bedroom behavior ever became their most important quality is beyond me. However, I am willing to bet it has something to do with patriarchy. In my experience, young Christians are told frequently how to approach the issue of sexuality. More often than not, the goal is to distance oneself from the notion as much as possible. In order to do this, girls must realize that once they have lost their virginity, all is certainly lost. It is the responsibility solely of the females to guarantee this does not happen. They must dress, look, talk, walk, and behave a certain way to make themselves marriable but not sexable. After all, if this small but fatal act happens before it is time, the girl’s worth goes straight down the drain. The car may look elegant and steadfast, but now that it has been driven off the lot, its resale value is pathetic.
It wasn’t until middle school that it even occurred to me that The Church would not approve of homosexuality. It was absolutely unfathomable that Jesus would condemn this love between two people solely based on their sex. For me, this contradiction between Jesus’ and The Church’s views on love sparked years of confusion. While I saw this lack of alignment between the person of Jesus and the message of The Church as a flaw, never did I feel empowered enough to voice my concern. I allowed The Church to trick me into thinking it was my problem; there was something wrong with me. So I remained silent.
This silence followed me into college. Before I even turned eighteen I signed a statement that my Christian university calls a lifestyle agreement. In addition to prohibiting tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, it requires all traditional undergraduate students to abstain from any sexual behaviors outside of heterosexual marriage. While I was aware of a multitude of infractions occurring around me during my years at the university, I was somewhat concerned with the possible consequences implied by this statement of sexual intolerance. For various reasons, I did not feel safe enough in my environment to fully live as I was created to—or even talk about it openly.
While many students preached love and genuinely believed they were living up to God’s calling for their lives, their whole resonated arrogance and ignorant compliance with whatever they heard in church. Students were drifting on the perilous waves of patriarchy, swelling up to crush any attempts at creating an egalitarian society. Conducting a level-headed discussion with someone who feels compelled to instruct you on what is absolutely right or wrong is nearly impossible. In most cases I would remain silent or dilute anything that might be said. One might hope that I was exuding Christ’s love that they might learn, but it is more likely that patriarchy was so ingrained in me that my voice was disabled. I remember a conversation I witnessed in which a college student wanted to know if it would be acceptable to bring his lesbian friend to church. The response he received was essentially that it would be tolerated since that is how one might fix her. Still lacking the courage and confidence to retort, I merely let it stew.
Eventually, I found a niche big enough to discuss feminism and some critiques of The Church, culture, and the university’s community. This proved to be my saving grace, a place where Jesus’ life and teachings about women and love actually seemed to align with faith.
This modest group of young feminists influenced me by reaffirming my understanding of God’s love and the greatest commandment as well as guiding me to think critically and speak out. If it was not for this feminist group, I may not have had the confidence to come out to my family for a long time. While I never doubted God’s love for me, my non-confrontational personality made me hesitant, fearing that my parents had not drawn the same conclusions I had. When I came out to my mom, she ironically thought I was going to tell her I was pregnant. Ultimately, she was relieved I was only gay. What was most important to her was that I was developing a sense of self that is pleasing to God. The fact that gay people are attracted to people of the same sex and seek a committed, respectful, loving relationship with someone they are attracted to made sense to my mom. This self assurance finally led me to live my life as God intended: in love.