I am so honored to share this story with you today. I admit that I wasn’t thinking about homosexuality when I first started thinking and writing about sex, Christianity, purity culture, and the evangelical church. Not because I didn’t think it mattered, but because my subconscious didn’t associate it with these other questions about sexuality and how churches talked about it with youth and adults. When I heard this story, I realized that I was part of this system. That I was someone who failed to even consider same-sex attraction and homosexuality as part of the conversation.
Looking back on my church experience growing up I can honestly say that in all of the many, many purity talks and True Love Waits banquets I attended I never once heard anyone address the fact that some people might not be fighting heterosexual lust. I never once heard anyone admit that it was possible that sexual struggles could transcend the question of whether or not to have premarital heterosexual sex.
The writer of this piece has asked to remain anonymous simply because she hasn’t had an opportunity to share these things with all of her friends and family members and wants to be able to have those conversations in person. I am amazed by her courage in sharing this story –particularly because she speaks from a place that almost everyone stands against. Both the conservatives who want to pretend this isn’t an issue and the more liberal (Christians and non-Christians alike) who believe people should fully embrace their sexuality, no matter what it looks like.
If you have some encouragement to share, the writer will see the comments here. I know that you all have various opinions and beliefs about homosexuality – whether it’s right or wrong or anyone’s business in the first place. If you want to have those debates, there are lots of other places you can do that, but I do ask that you don’t do that here. Feel free to comment if this story impacted you in some way –I have wonderful readers and I trust that your comments will be kind even if you hold a different opinion from the writer’s.
If you missed the other parts of this series you can read them here, here, here, here, and here.
I am a twenty-something single woman. I grew up attending a southern Baptist church with my parents and my siblings. When I was 7 years old, I came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior.
I have a long history of sexual confusion that dates back to the fourth or fifth grade when I kissed my best friend at the time. Passionately. After kissing her, I felt extremely guilty like I had committed some terrible sin. I cried for days and told her “We can’t do that anymore, I think God doesn’t like it”. I tried talking to my mom about it. But when I told her, Mom just said “as long as you guys aren’t doing it anymore, it’s okay”.
Really? Was it? How did she know? Was I normal? I wish she had sat down with me and asked me WHY I had done that. Maybe explained to me WHY it wasn’t okay. I never knew why. I just knew it was “wrong” and it made me feel guilty.
Unfortunately, this became a cycle in my childhood. The following year I had a different best friend and we did the exact same thing. I didn’t know why I kept doing it if it was wrong. But I also didn’t understand why it was wrong in the first place. I felt like something was wrong with me.
That wasn’t the first time I’d tried talking to my mom about sexuality.
Me: “Mom what is sex? What does sexy mean? I heard it on Happy Days”. My best friend and I both thought that if the word was “sex-y” then root word had to be “sex”.
Mom: “I have a book about it in my closet somewhere. We will talk about it later”.
But later never came. That was third grade. We never talked about it again.
Instead, on the ride home from a long road trip, my cousin took out a notebook and drew pictures for me of the male and female body and explained to me what her mom had explained to her.
I finally understood. Sort of.
I went back to school eager to share my new-found knowledge with my best friend. “Hey Amanda, I know! I know what it means!” I yelled up to her from the ground as she climbed the monkey bars. She looked down at me and curtly said to stop talking about it, because she knew what it meant too.
We were never friends again. The shame I felt was endless.
These experiences early-on taught me that sex was something to be ashamed of. After all, the mere knowledge of it had cost me a friendship.
In the 6th grade I read a purity book with a friend. The author explained that if you had “experimented” with friends in the past, it was just an experiment. It didn’t mean anything. Despite what the book said, I felt different about my experience. I hadn’t even known about sex when I had first started this pattern of kissing my friends, but I still wasn’t sure that this wasn’t something more.
We never talked about it at home and the only thing my church really taught me about sex was “True Love Waits.” Apparently that was the thing to do. When I was in the 7th grade everyone my age was so excited to pick out his or her purity ring, have the ceremony, sign the card, keep it forever, and one day give it to their future spouse.
For weeks leading up to the commitment ceremony we heard lectures about how to maintain purity, how to keep your distance from the opposite sex, and what you can and can’t do with your boyfriend/girlfriend. I remember a boy raising his hand and asking in the middle of our group gathering, “Is masturbation okay?” The entire group silenced to a stunned hush. A few giggles scattered throughout the youth group. We were embarrassed for him.
Even here at church in a class about sex, there were questions we were supposed to know better than to ask. There were words and thoughts that were off-limits entirely. He had said a bad word and that was wrong.
In a private girls-only session, I also asked the wrong question. One girl raised her hand “I know we shouldn’t sleep with our boyfriends, but can we at least lay down with them?” I remember thinking Why would that even be a problem? Why would you want to have sex if you don’t want to have babies? That question came flying out of my mouth and the older kids looked at me like I was hilarious.
No one even answered me and I just didn’t get it. I felt so different.
Around the same time as the True Love Waits Commitment at church, we had the “sex talk” at my private Christian school. We learned abstinence again. “Just don’t do it.” But when the main teacher left the room to take a call, the assistant teacher looked around and pulled out a banana. “I know you girls are doing it anyways,” she said, “I’m not stupid, so I will show you how to use a condom.” And there, in the room, she pulled out a condom and placed it on the banana.
Girls giggled around the room, but I just felt embarrassed. Humiliated. It was becoming more and more obvious how different I was from the rest of them. Sex was something for marriage. Between a man and a woman. I believed that with my whole heart. Was I the only one who intended to keep that commitment?
When we were 16 my best friend got her first boyfriend. She stopped calling and hanging out with me. I sat in the car and cried to my mom, “Why can’t we still be friends even though she’s dating him?” My mom replied “She can do things with him that she can’t do with you. She can kiss him” She chuckled.
In the back of my mind, I cried, She can kiss me too! I instantly felt shame. I caught myself in mid-thought, willing myself to NOT say it. Although it had been a long time since those elementary school kisses, those feelings had never entirely gone away. I believed I was wrong, but I still didn’t know why. And I couldn’t ask anyone. I just didn’t feel safe.
At the ripe age of 18 I finally got my first boyfriend. My past of kissing best friends and girls was completely behind me and I thought I had finally moved on to how I was supposed to function. I finally felt normal.
But in my relationship with this guy, I felt so uncomfortable. I was constantly being reminded by all my friends and mentors from church to “keep my distance,” not to get too physical. They explained that as a girl, it was my job to set the boundaries in the relationship, because boys can’t control themselves. I felt afraid and anxious and uncomfortable being with him.
There was so much pressure and stress and fear and shame. When I went to college we broke up.
Then college happened. You know what I mean, don’t you? The world of academia, the world of independent thought and constant combative skepticism that takes hold of you. I took a Bible class that left me spinning with confusion about God’s Word and His truth. The first day I entered the classroom, the professor stood in front of class, “This” he said holding up the precious scriptures I had clung to my entire life, “has many errors in it.” He let the Bible drop to the ground. I watched it fall as the slap it made against the floor echoed through the room. It rocked my world.
Needless to say by the end of that semester, I no longer believed the Bible. Intellectually, I couldn’t trust it. I didn’t know if I could trust God. I became lost and confused.
Meanwhile, I discovered alcohol, which allowed me to let loose. I drank and partied and yes, I kissed people.
Girls. Only girls. I was still uncomfortable with men. The messages I had been taught growing up were seared into my brain, and they had left me confused. It felt wrong to be with men. They couldn’t control themselves and it wasn’t safe. I knew it was wrong to be with girls too, but every time I had asked why, no one could explain it to me. “It’s just wrong,” they said. “God says so.” I was afraid to bring it up anymore.
It wasn’t long before I identified as lesbian and started dating. I struggled heavily and wrestled with this identity for nearly two years. During that time I dated a girl for 10 months. We were sexually involved. I remember feeling sick the first time. On my way to church the next morning I pulled over and vomited. I hated myself. I felt ashamed. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know why and I felt like I was the only Christian in the world who was experiencing this. I felt too ashamed to talk.
Still, I attended church. I just kept it all inside. This came naturally to me. I grew up attending a Christian school and showing up for church every Sunday and Wednesday. I was told that you don’t leave your dirty laundry out. You don’t wave it around. You don’t tell people about your broken bits. You don’t talk about personal things.
My sister got drunk on Saturday night? We don’t talk about it. Even though we believe drinking is wrong.
My brother punched a hole in the door? No one mentions it. Even though it makes me afraid.
My Uncle got caught doing drugs? Don’t tell anyone. It’s no one’s business.
The message I’d received my whole life was this; “Ignore it and keep going to church. As long as you go to church, you’re doing okay.” So I kept going to church.
I was so confused. Sexually. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually. I felt like I was being beat up every Sunday when I showed up to church. My girlfriend looked at me one Sunday morning and said, “Don’t go, babe. It ruins you.”
But she was wrong. It saved me.
My church friends eventually found out. Living a double life caught up with me, I guess. They approached me. Slowly, over a period of 6 months, they met with me… and Christ worked in me, despite my rejection of Him.
The last meeting we had was a surprise “come to Jesus” meeting. “This is the last meeting we’re having with you, but we love you.” They said, “We will be here to walk you through this when you come back to Him.”
That night when I got in my car I surrendered to Jesus. I broke up with my girlfriend later that week. After we broke up, I lay on the floor sobbing “WHY?” and listening to the relentless rhythm of my cries echoing down the dorm hallway. I felt so broken and so angry.
And I came back to church….
Three years have passed since that time. It has been the most painful, honest, broken, excruciating three years of my life; yet for the first time, I have had open, honest, and loving communication with my church family about Sex and Marriage. About Shame and Sin and Trust. I feel open and honest. And my shame diminishes every time I face the King.
I’ve finally been able to ask the questions I’ve wanted answers to. I’ve learned why same-sex relationships are wrong. I have been mentored closely and I’ve had to let God change my thinking. How God made me to follow Him and why He desires purity from me are still hard things to accept sometimes.
My church family, my sisters in Christ, have formed a shield of safety around me. They have walked with me arm in arm through my questions, through my temptations, through my anger, and through my unbelief. There hasn’t been anything that I am not allowed to ask them. They’ve told me in love when I’m wrong and in love they’ve led me to His cross. They’ve helped me learn what it means to take my thoughts captive. They’ve walked with me and helped point out the lies that I’d believed for so long about sex, about marriage, and about men.
I’ve let Christ into the core of my being. He is reshaping my sexuality for me. I’m no longer defined by whom I’m attracted to because He has given me a new heart and a new identity.
I’m His child.
He is my father.
He is faithful. He is true, as is His word….And He loves me.
I can’t get over it.
I can’t get over His grace.
You can read the previous two posts in this series HERE and HERE. If you would like to contribute to this series, you can email me at lily.e.dunn at gmail.com.