Within evangelical Christianity, people aren’t good at holding opposite truths with tension. Everything exists within a binary, and anything outside or in between is a problem, and often willfully ignored. Usually labeled as sin or at the very least unimportant if the gray area makes the Christian feel too uncomfortable. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How usually the choices we made were all characterized as right or wrong, to fit within that binary of good and evil. And how those choices always had to meet someone else’s expectations, and rarely our own.
I know that everyone grows up seeing and interpreting life through a different lens, usually that of their caregiver or guardian. But there’s a unique common denominator among those who grew up within American Evangelical Christianity. Our choices were limited by a set of rules that were different than the rules the rest of the world played by.
Because of all of this, it’s hard to know what is real. What decisions did we make only because we were told we should want those things? Did I want or like certain things because I was seeking approval? Or did I actually like them?
This is one of the primary reasons that people who leave white evangelical spaces have difficulty trusting themselves. We were not taught that it was a skill we were allowed to have. Just the other day, a dear friend talked on her podcast1 about turning back toward our true selves, back to the beginning. It made me ask myself, what if I don’t know what the beginning was? She was speaking about queerness and transitioning. But it made me think about which parts of me are true, and which parts were manufactured to fit inside the binaries of the white evangelical machine. All my memories were formed from within that system. It’s hard for me to remember, but little by little my true Core Self is getting louder and louder.
As a Christian teenage girl, I knew I was supposed to want to marry a good Christian boy. It was impressed upon me the importance of only seeking boys who shared my same faith tradition, because the bible made it clear that if I didn’t, the relationship would be doomed. This is, of course, not true. The bible is not that clear about much of anything, let alone teenage relationships in the 20th century. But because this was presented to me as absolute truth, I did not question it. I longed for it to not be true, though. I was convinced at one point that to be non-Christian meant having way more fun, less guilt and shame, and overall had it way easier. However, I didn’t feel I had a choice in the matter because “hell” and “eternal damnation.”
Apart from American Christianity though, you have American pop culture and society-at-large who projected only heteronormativity in movies and television and music. Every example of romantic attraction and relationships I was exposed to up until probably my late 20’s, was heteronormative. All of it. By the time I was in high school, romantic comedies (rom-coms) where killing it at the box office every year. All of them presenting heterosexual romance as the only example of what romantic love looked like. And I loved those movies as much as the next girl. But now I’m beginning to realize I liked the romantic stories because of the feelings that were emoted on screen, it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the gender of the characters.
How many women have sought the attention of a man because our patriarchal society told us to? This is a hard truth for me to accept. For years I dismissed my attraction to women as a train that I missed, or the road not traveled. Since I had made a heteronormative choice in a partner, I had to live with that choice. I also assumed that because “changing my mind”—or rather, realizing my own truth—might hurt people I love and who love me, that meant living my truth must be wrong and avoided at all costs. These are things I had accepted as absolute truths. Core beliefs about myself that could not be changed. And so for about a decade I put it to the back of my mind. It never went away though. When my feelings were confusing or overwhelming, I just shamed myself back into the closet. I’d have my little pity party. I told myself I should be grateful to have a partner that loves me and two beautiful children. How selfish of me to want anything different. I made my choice. I have to live with it.
But was it my choice? And does embracing my queerness make me ungrateful? I want to say firmly right now, the answer to both of those questions is No.
Did I choose my partner? Yes. No one forced me marry him. No one needed to because he was and is my best friend, a beautiful soul and the best human I’ve ever known. Loving him is not hard. That’s not to say our relationship is perfect. Two people as different as we are, being expected to grow and change together and similarly enough over the course of 18 years to land softly in the same place now is an expectation no one should have to live up to. But he loves me well. We love our children well, and we want the same things for our kids and each other. Which is for all of us to be allowed to live as our truest selves.
Glennon Doyle says that “A broken family is a family in which any member must break herself into pieces to fit in. A whole family is one in which each member can bring her whole self to the table knowing that she will always be both held and free.”2 This is the truth I want to live and stand by. Anything less than this is simply unacceptable. Not just for me, but for my partner and my children.
So what do I want? I want to stop looking to others for approval. I want to be my whole, true self. Who is she, you ask? I’m just getting to know her. So far I can tell you she is a bisexual cis gender woman. She’s learning to trust her intuition and instincts, which are very trustworthy by the way. She is not too much. She’s always enough. She’s trying to reclaim her body, which she mistakenly believed did not belong to her. She’s fighting as hard as she can to remember that her own expectations for herself are the only ones that matter. And this is hard because it’s contrary to everything she’s been taught. The religion that raised her would even say it’s even wrong. But it’s not wrong. It’s the most right thing she’s ever done in her whole damn life.
- Queer Stories: Turning Toward the Light of the Moon, Earth Makers: Queering Spiritual Care, June 27, 2021
- Doyle, G. (2020). Untamed. New York, NY: The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.