I was a Christian for most of my young adult life. Not because I was raised in a religious family, but because I chose to be.
I was 15 when I first went to church. A new friend from our high school in Williamsburg, Va., invited me. It was Valentine’s Day, and the pastor was talking about God’s love and how to cultivate a relationship with him. I hadn’t ever been to a church like this. It had a full band of amazing musicians, and so many people were dancing and raising their hands in worship. In the moment I mocked it, but deep down I was intrigued. I went home that night and told my parents I wanted to start going to church more.
On March 21, 2000, I “got saved” at a service with an evangelist guest speaker. Somehow it felt like everything he said was just for me. God was speaking to my pain and emptiness, and when it was time to go up front to turn my life over I humbly accepted.
I quickly became a devout and passionate follower, even nicknaming myself “dove eyes” from a verse in the Old Testament. I took it to heart that doves do not have peripheral vision — they only see what they choose to focus on. My desire was to focus on God wholeheartedly, without being distracted by the temptations that be.
But this was all happening while I carried the heavy truth that I am gay, was in denial about it, and had all intention of forever internalizing it.
I knew I was gay since I fell in love with my best friend at age 4. I didn’t know the term for it or all it entailed, but I knew I was different because I wasn’t having crushes on boys like all my other friends were. I was often teased for looking like a boy but never tied the two together. It wasn’t until I became a Christian and my church told me homosexuality was wrong that I realized what I was struggling with.
I saw it as my burden to bear, a sacrifice that would serve as my consecration. So, to avoid future missteps, I came out to my youth pastors. They were the only people who knew I was gay. My parents didn’t know, my sister didn’t know, none of my best friends knew. I made this decision to abstain from my tendencies. Like sponsors in AA, my pastors spoke with me weekly to help me stay on this path, and I could call them whenever I wanted to check myself. Once I left for college in Richmond, I did the same thing with my campus minister.
In college I minored in religion and, my junior year, signed up for a course on the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was gay but never made it public. His conflict lay between his priestly vows of celibacy, vs. the loneliness and longing for intimacy he experienced. A biography published after his life suggested he only became fully comfortable with his sexual orientation in his last few years of life.
I empathized with Nowen’s story and choices, feeling constantly torn between homosexuality and religion. It made me realize that subconsciously, I was putting myself in that same isolation. But his struggle also convinced me I could still prevent myself from experiencing that lifelong strife. I wasn’t going to spend any more time harboring a secret that takes such an enormous emotional, spiritual, and physical toll.
So my relationship with religion and with God became compromised. I felt that the teachings of Christianity fundamentally conflicted with my sexuality. When I finally decided to come out, I completely separated myself from the church.
But I have never been able to shake my connection to spirituality entirely. I continue to grapple with my perception of God apart from Christianity — who he really is and how he feels about me.
My decision to come out and leave the church has been far from simple. It’s a complicated process of self-actualization, and it’s still happening.
But it has also been self-affirming and uplifting. I have made the tough decision to stand true to myself through my fear and self-doubt. Now I find power and relief every time I have the opportunity to share that.
When I talk about how I’ve changed, I feel like we are not bound to our past and it is never too late to turn things around.