This is part 1 in a four-part series that addresses homosexuality and my struggles with it. Some of you may have felt very uncomfortable the instant you read the title to this post. Why am I writing about such a controversial topic? Because someone needs to do it. It wasn’t until I acknowledged my own struggles with it that I wondered how many others in the Mennonite denomination have the same struggle and suffer in silence. It is estimated that approximately 5% of the population is homosexual. I doubt if it’s much different within the Mennonite denomination, perhaps even higher because healthy sexuality is rarely discussed in its more conservative branches. At least, that was my experience.
I start this series with fear and trembling, knowing there will be some who may not understand or will choose to judge me instead. I’d rather not post this series because it is very personal for me and makes me feel very vulnerable. However, I can’t escape the deep burden on my heart for others caught in the same pain I was. I can’t stay silent. Homosexuality is such a painful thing to experience that I decided to be honest about my own struggles in hope it will spark some discussion on the topic. You don’t have to agree with me. I enjoy healthy, respectful discussion, so give me your thoughts. Through our discussion, perhaps we can better define truth and seek compassion together. Keep in mind that this is a four-part series. By the end, I hope to provide balanced, thoughtful conclusions for your consideration.
I was preparing to meet with a friend when it hit me: “Ummm, I think I’m gay. I have a crush on her! I actually want to date one of my friends!” Yikes! Me? Gay? A Mennonite? A Christian? How is that possible? Why am I even thinking this? I must be crazy! The thought wasn’t exactly new though, not if I was honest with myself. This wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. I had thought about it in some form or another for years. Because I was so uncomfortable with the very idea of sexuality, I had always pushed the thought back down again, like a game of whack-a-mole. I had never let myself seriously examine it. Now that I was finally beginning to learn about healthy sexuality, I had to be honest with myself: “What if I actually am a lesbian?”
I felt disoriented.
For a while, the question of “Am I gay?” felt like my world had been turned upside down. The thought was very disorienting. Growing up in a very conservative, Christian culture, homosexuality was not discussed. While I had always known what “being gay” was, it certainly wasn’t a viable option in the world I came from. Of course, I had always been taught it was very, very sinful, the worst sin imaginable practically. My grandma wouldn’t go to a certain grocery store on a certain day of the week because a gay couple in the community often shopped there on that day.
The question felt so disorienting and so unacceptable I didn’t even know how to talk about it. If homosexuality is wrong, then how can I even be feeling this when I’m a Christian? I tried mentioning it in casual conversation with some close, trusted friends, and the conversation stalled into uncomfortable silence. I found out pretty quickly the Mennonite world wasn’t really a safe place to have this conversation! However, I needed to sort it out somehow.
Feeling alone, I wrestled with it for a few weeks on my own. Finally, I gathered my courage and opened the topic with my counselor. I knew my counselor well enough to know she would not condemn me for feeling this way. She would be understanding of my struggle and help me through it while pointing me towards God’s truth on the matter. However, it was still hard to break the silence about a topic that so many in my world considered taboo.
This was the first question my counselor asked me: “Have you invited God into this question and these feelings?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. The topic felt so taboo to me, I felt nothing but shame. Having been taught that God hates homosexuality made me feel as if I couldn’t talk about it with Him. That is a bit unusual for me, as my relationship with God in the last few years has been a free thing. I know I can tell Him anything and that He will help me sort it out. Finally, I had come across something that felt impossible to voice even to Him.
Following that session, I knew I needed to bring God into the mess with me. Still unable to actually voice it to Him, I sat down and wrote Him a prayer in letter form. I was honest with Him about how I was feeling. I told Him that I even wanted to be a lesbian and why. I told Him that I didn’t understand sexuality or myself. I told Him that I didn’t know where to start with sorting it all out. Writing that letter to God brought Him into the struggle with me. Of course, He had known about it all along. I just couldn’t accept His presence in the middle of my struggle. Now, I could, and God and I went on to have many conversations about my attraction to women.
I wanted to be a lesbian.
Why did I think I might be bisexual or lesbian? Well, for one, when I wasn’t around my “crush,” I missed her intensely. I wanted her to hold me and care for me. I wanted to be the one she needed. I wanted to kiss her. And, it wasn’t just her. I felt the same thing for other women too. I deeply wanted a relationship with a woman. Some days, the longing was intense. In addition, I could look back on my past and see similar feelings for other friends throughout the years. In other words, I was feeling the same thing I felt towards men. (Yes, I was still attracted to men.)
Oddly enough, some part of me actually wanted to be a lesbian, or at least bisexual, so I could date and marry a woman. I use the word “oddly” because “coming out” as a lesbian would have meant that I would be disowned by my family, the Mennonite community, and maybe some of my friends. I would probably lose most of my relationships. In the Mennonite conference I was a part of, homosexuality is so unacceptable and viewed as such a terrible, evil influence that they will barely speak about it and certainly will never associate with someone who is gay. I would experience much pain and estrangement were I to live as a lesbian.
Because women didn’t scare me like men did.
Why did I want to be a lesbian? Because I had given up hope of ever being loved by a man. You see, for years, men and marriage and sex had all been too terrifying to let myself be honest about my longings for love and companionship. Even though I was considering the question “Am I gay?”, I knew I was still attracted to men. However, most of my relationships with men up until this point had been, at the worst abusive, at the least, not supportive of me as a woman of God. Therefore, attraction to men was terrifying.
It felt easier to be attracted to women. It was easier to imagine loving and dating and marrying a woman. You see, while my relationship with Mom has been painful, my other relationships with women have been generally healthy, safe, and affirming. When it came to relating to women, I didn’t have nearly so much baggage, so much pain, so many bad memories, or so much ambivalence. Women felt safe. Men were not. However, I was still a woman, with God-given desires. I still craved love and companionship, but since men weren’t safe, I simply transferred those longings onto those who felt safe to me: women.
I told God that. I told God that I was angry that living as a lesbian wasn’t okay. You see, for so long, I had had no hope of marriage ever, believing I was damaged goods doomed to be alone forever, vowing I’d never get married, never let any man hurt me again. Finally, I was waking up sexually and relationally. Now, I could acknowledge how much I did want love and commitment and marriage. The idea of marrying a woman gave me a little spark of hope. Maybe marriage and love and sex weren’t impossible for me after all! Maybe I was wrong!
Because heterosexual relationships did not mean love to me.
Another reason why I wanted to be gay was because gay and lesbian relationships appeared to me to be more loving. I’d watch a heterosexual relationship in a movie or read it in a book and be unmoved, not really wanting what I saw portrayed. However, I’d see a gay or lesbian relationship portrayed, and my heart felt like it would explode with longing as I’d see the love and caring.
You see, the majority of heterosexual relationships I’d experienced or witnessed were extremely unhealthy. Sex between a man and a woman certainly wasn’t love to me! A man and a woman hugging, kissing, or holding hands wasn’t love either! I’d been given all of those in the context of sexual abuse, and it wasn’t love. It was evil and cheap and shameful and painful and terrifying! Homosexual relationships didn’t have that negative meaning for me. Is it any wonder, with that frame of reference, that I wanted nothing to do with a heterosexual relationship? So, I wanted to beg God, “Please, let me marry a woman.” I thought it was the only way anyone could ever love me.
Because I wanted a place to fit.
In addition, becoming a part of the LBGT community felt like finding myself and a place to fit. I had never had a place to fit. I had always felt like an alien in the Mennonite culture. I couldn’t understand my friends and family members who seemed to belong without fear or questioning. I’d watch others interact and wonder what I was missing and why I felt so alone, even in the middle of a crowd or a family gathering. For so many years, I had had no home. I’d be months away from the place I grew up and my family and never miss any of it.
I didn’t even have an identity. I didn’t know who I was. I had never fit the mold of a Mennonite woman, or at least the mold I understood was required of me as a woman. I wasn’t content to only talk about children and housekeeping and the who’s and wherefore’s of our insular world. I had a mind and used it. I pursued God with passion. I loved challenge and new experiences. I had so many “unorthodox” dreams. However, I didn’t see any other women around me doing the same thing, and I couldn’t figure out why I was so different.
Now, maybe it could all make sense. If I really was lesbian or bisexual, perhaps that was the reason why I wasn’t like other women. Because the LGBT community has experienced so much homophobia over the years, it is a tight-knit community. For the most part, the community welcomes you with open arms. You find a ready-made “family” and an identity. You find community in shared experience. I had never had any of that. I had been alone for so long, drifting, never fitting anywhere. Perhaps I didn’t fit because I was gay. I wanted to be gay so I could finally be at home somewhere, experience community, and figure out who I really was.
I read. A lot.
What do I do when faced with a new challenge? I start researching and reading about the topic. So, I did. I first read science-based articles about homosexuality and what it is. I learned about bisexuals and gays and lesbians and asexuals. I read about the Kinsey scale of sexuality and Kinsey’s research of sex and sexuality that he conducted in the mid-20th century. I read all sides of the various arguments. Is homosexuality innate, in other words, are gays born that way? Or, might homosexuality be nurture: they learned it or were influenced towards it by family, life, and circumstances? Or, perhaps it is simply choice? The science is still not clear. There have been no studies that have successfully proven what causes homosexuality.
I joined an online forum called “Empty Closets.” It is a gay-affirming, online community where all topics about homosexuality, from coming out to hateful family members to sex issues are discussed with freedom and no judgement. Absolutely no hooking up or dating is allowed on the site. It is strictly a place for people struggling with their sexuality to find a supportive group to understand and provide feedback. I read a lot of posts and posted some myself as I tried to sort it out. I was simply trying to understand what I was up against. What did being lesbian or bisexual mean? How did others deal with this?
I also read about and studied the Christian controversy surrounding homosexuality. I studied the main passages in the Bible that are generally considered to condemn homosexuality. I looked up the words in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. I read scholarly articles, written by theologians and others, for their interpretations and understanding of these Scriptures. Above all, I prayed and wrestled it out with God. “What is Your truth? Who are You? What are Your plans for the sexes? What do You want me to know about my sexuality?” This whole process took months.
Part 2 coming next week! Keep reading to find out what happened next.
I will note one thing here. Because of my analytical mind, I seek and process facts as much as I do feeling and experience. Because of that, doing all the research online was an important part of my process. Others may simply have become more confused, so doing that may not be for everyone. I’m glad now for all the research I did because of the understanding and deep compassion it gave me for the LGBT community.