To understand this period of my life, it helps to understand that I went full-in on charismatic Christianity, which at the time seemed wildly different from the church I'd grown up in. There was preaching of radical love and grace, engaging worship, and the opportunity to explore the areas of spirituality that had been downplayed in my life beforehand. I found in that space a deeper connection with God and became comfortable with distinguishing when the voice inside me was me, and when it was something deeper.
The thing that kept me coming back to those places, again and again, was love. I was, and am, obsessed with the love of Christ. I drank up the songs about revolutionary, reckless love, and ultimate acceptance no matter what.
As I kept pulling at the threads of purity culture in those years, that's the message I heard the most. No matter what. No matter where you land on the lesser theological minutiae. No matter how you got here, you're here, you're safe, you're loved. And since I was digging through my identity and reshaping huge swathes of what I believed about myself and my relationship to the world around me, it was very important for me to feel like I would have a soft place to land if I fell apart entirely in the process.
Which led me to the moment in 2015, after a series of long twists and turns, and experiences with friends who "suddenly" came out as LGBTQ+, and a lot of reading of more of the progressive women in the Evangelical sphere who then were more or less excommunicated from some circles when they announced they were affirming (Rachel Held Evans was huge in this process, as were Jenn Hatmaker, and Sarah Bessey, and later Glennon Doyle). Slowly but surely I went from "God loves everyone, so I guess that means gay people too?" to "God definitely loves everyone, but He may think that gay people need to repent" to "God definitely loves everyone, regardless."
And then finally into the moment of, "shit. I'm not straight. Can I still be a Christian?"
That moment came when I was 26 and I finally consciously realized that I was bisexual. It was only then that I got the one clarifying moment that crystallized so much of what had confused me about my personal history. I was watching a documentary called "Give Me Sex Jesus", that more or less looks into the whole mess of Purity Culture from all angles. It has people who are still 100% on board with those teachings. It has the son of a guy prominent in Campus Crusades for Christ that came out as gay. It has a couple that is still very glad they stuck to their purity pledges.
For me, the most important set of interviews was with a F/F couple who had met as young adults and fell in love without really knowing what was happening because they had both been raised in this culture that told them it was evil. From what I remember (I still haven't watched it again, though I should) they met at a church event even. Maybe not. Whatever it was, it was the thing that hit me the hardest. Women in their mid-20s realizing something about their sexuality that had been hiding from them for years.
As I said, I wholeheartedly believe that God speaks to us, if not audibly, in an inner voice that is entirely distinct in tone from my normal thought processes. I had, at that point in my life, spent a good part of the three years prior to this moment practicing hearing God's voice and distinguishing it from other things in my life. That voice - the one I'd been learning to hear - that was the voice that spoke to me at that moment and said, "this is you."
And then my mental world erupted in a flood of existential angst.
At this point in my life, I was just finally getting on my feet as an adult, with a steady part-time job, thinking about going to grad school. I had spent the majority of the first half of the decade learning about myself and how I functioned so I could try to move forward on steadier footing. And then this.
I prayed a lot. I studied. I came out to a couple of close friends right away and agonized over it a lot. After all, up to that point my general ethic had been, "God loves gay people, but..." Enter all the excuses. Particularly the ideas that I'd been presented in college, the idea that you could pray the gay away. And then I reasoned that it should be easy for me to just... fall in love with a guy, right? I was attracted to them. I was a hot mess socially with guys. I've still never successfully flirted with one and moved that into a romantic relationship, despite keeping my eye out and continuing in the super fun dating site cycle of looking through a bunch of profiles, realizing they all sounded boring, and moving on.
I knew that I wanted a relationship. I knew that I was very, very curious about any sort of sexual relationship, and I knew that the easiest path would be to force a relationship with a guy to be my only option. Except, I was still super drawn to the idea of a relationship with a femme person. I could run from it all I wanted, and certainly tried, but in my "weak moments" I gave in to exploring how I would even start a relationship like that. I had no idea. I was a Christian homeschooler at the core, and my changing mindset could not cover the fact that I had great social skills until I was in any encounter that could potentially lead to a date, at which point, I ceased to function.
The frustration with this vicious cycle built up more and more until I wanted to scream. In the meantime, I was very effectively distracting myself by getting my credential, surviving 2016 (how my political views changed after I realized I was queer is a whole thing), and slowly working my way through editing this novel I'd started in 2013 that had originally put me on the path to examining the whole purity culture mess. The problem was, between November 2013 when I started writing it and November 2016 when I started the full-rewrite after a few years of futile attempts to edit, so much had changed that I didn't get very far, so it got dropped again as I moved forward towards my first full-time teaching job.
[Side note, November 2016 is incidentally when I first met this interesting girl named Marie*, initially just through the SacNaNo regions IRC channel...]
In summer of 2017, I finally got to the point where I needed someone to weigh in on the arguments in my head because I could not find a way through the weeds. I went, with a great degree of nervousness, to the counseling pastor at my church, who ran the Nikao School I'd been a part of with her husband.
She did two super important things in that conversation: First, she helped me shred my "True Love Waits" pledge card and released me from a promise I made when I was 12 and had NO IDEA what I was agreeing to, and told me I was free to make that decision based on who I was as a 28-year-old adult woman.
Second, she told me that she could definitely see why, with my history and some of my traumas, I would gravitate towards women. And she essentially gave me permission to explore it in-depth as an option, as opposed to the cautious poking at it with a stick to see how it reacted I'd been trying to live with.
I was so relieved. One of my biggest worries at the time was, "if I come out, will I be accepted by people in the church?" And to know that there was just one person who I loved and trusted who would do it was powerful. It was no longer, "well there are affirming Christians, but I don't actually know any of them."
Except then I went and took a job at a private Christian school, which made sense for me in a lot of ways. Small community, small class load, lots of opportunities to spend time with kids outside of the classroom where I could actually get to know them. Small staff so my introverted self would hopefully be a little bit less overwhelmed. Where it didn't make sense was in the contract they made me sign that specifically prohibited all forms of sexual immorality while under contract, including extramarital sex and homosexual sex. At the time, I figured, "eh, I'm not doing it right now anyway and I'm still not sure where I'm really going to do with that, so I can handle that."
Have you ever noticed that if you've given yourself permission to consider trying something new, and then you suddenly have a wall between you and that new thing, it gets 5x harder to resist that new thing?
[Side note #2, that November during NaNo 2017, I actually met this girl, Marie, that I'd chatted with before, in person, and we bonded over - what else - old Sunday School and camp songs, and in the course of our blooming friendship discovered that we were both bisexual. However, I was not even considering it because I was not allowed to at that point.]
The problem with the job, besides my personal frustrations with being forced back into the land of purity culture, was that I had changed so drastically from who I was just a few years before that I didn't actually fit as well as I thought I would. I loved the kids, even the ones who made my life especially difficult. But I definitely got on some shit lists by not pretending to be a conservative anymore. I was solidly centrist at that point, moving left with every day of living under our 45th President, and because they had asked me to teach a Bible class. My theology was extreme both by being very charismatic and by being a strong feminist who believed that women could preach. I am also simultaneously shy and fully willing to give my entire opinion if pressed, which has always gotten me into hot water - but especially when I was honest about how I was "one of those crazy libs," which is to say, someone who disagreed with them politically.
In March of 2018, the hammer dropped, and I was unceremoniously "asked to resign" and handed my final check on the last day of school before Spring Break. It was simultaneously super devastating and kinda freeing, but it took me a few months to get through the devastating part before I could try to deal with any of the freedom that came from being released from that morality clause.
During that period of time, I started hanging out more and more with Marie. We had stayed in touch after November this time, and I knew she didn't have a lot of friends in the area, so I made it a point to invite her to events with my church's 20s and 30s group and to outings with mutual friends. Also, she didn't drive, so I offered rides to our year-round write-ins, all nice and friendly-like. Honestly, it wasn't anything distinct from what I'd done for other friends or even just for acquaintances, so I didn't think anything of it.
As I went into another round of soul-searching in the spring and summer of 2018, as a result of getting dropped from a job where I had thought that I was doing okay. Not great, by any means, but not like, horrific. I was dealing (or so I thought). I was up at my camp a ton, basically whenever I could be since I had not found a new job. It was at camp that I finally decided I was going to figure out this whole bisexual thing once and for all. Could I accept and love myself and be sure of God's love and acceptance no matter which way I chose to go?
At Bethel (of all places), I finally got my answer. I remember cause I wasn't even supposed to be at the evening service. I'd gone up with the staff in my own car, and was planning on going home that afternoon, but it was July in the Central Valley and my old car does this fun thing where it freaks out and overheats when the temperature hits triple digets. So after being rescued from the gas station where I'd been marooned, I went back to Redding to hang out with the staff members who were still up there and went to the evening service since I'd gotten the advice to just try to drive back after the temperature dropped.
I was there, deep in worship up at the front, looking around the room and realizing that if I got up to testify that I was bisexual and okay with it, most of the people there probably would not accept me, despite their worship team pumping out all these songs about unconditional love. As I was thinking it, I once again heard God clearly when he said, "they don't matter. I love you no matter what, no matter where you go."
And so I went home after that service, thinking, huh, maybe this is a thing I can start to consider.
The story of the rest of the summer will have to be a different post because I do need to get back to sorting through All The Books eventually.
*Marie, who I am now married to, goes by Chris now and uses they/them pronouns. They have given me permission to refer to them by the name and pronouns they had when I met them :)