Growing up, I was always the Church kid. You know, the kid who memorized all the famous Bible verses, raised their hand for every question during youth group, and volunteered to be the front runner for ever Church game. To everyone around me, I was the star Christian kid. If we were all getting graded, I was getting an A+ for both participation and accuracy. I always had the right answer, I was always looked to during prayer time when no one else wanted to get called on. Besides, if the Church kid was here, they were probably raising their hand anyway. Yep, that was me through and through.
But here’s the thing. Being the Church kid is draining. There’s an indescribable feeling that comes with being seen as the ‘perfect’ one. The kid who wins every game, the kid who knows every verse, the kid who memorized all the theological arguments ‘just in case.’ When it came to being the Church kid, there was always the expectation that I had to be more than enough. The other kids looked at me different. The leaders looked at me different. My parents looked at me different. It felt like this never ending fight to be good enough, to keep proving that I was smart enough, spiritual enough, strong enough, all enough for God and for my Church.
It’s hard to feel known when you constantly feel like you’re fighting to be good enough.
Now, there was a reason I was fighting to be good enough. Actually, there are about a hundred reasons. But the primary reason was so big that it consumed me. I couldn’t allow myself to be known. I had to stay ahead, be so strong no one would look deeper than the surface. What people saw is what they got. I wanted to keep it that way, because I knew, deep down, if people saw the real me, they wouldn’t want to keep me.
I was gay. I liked girls. Yet, at the same time, I was the Church kid. For the longest time I thought those two things were mutually exclusive. You couldn’t be both. You were either gay, a sinner going to hell like all the preachers talked about, or you were a good Christian going to heaven when you died. I was determined to be the latter.
For years I dedicated myself to being the Church kid. I loved God, I wanted to be His child, and I wanted to be loved. I wasn’t sure I could be gay and loved by God at the same time. Just watching TV evangelists taught me that much, and some of my relatives comments watching the news only reinforced that theory.
So, I stuffed my feelings. I pushed them deep, deep down, and focused all my energy on being the good Christian kid who loved God and served him wholeheartedly. I forced myself to believe that my feelings were just a phase, that I wasn’t really gay. Not really. Maybe I was just confused or something. After all, being gay was a sin, and God wouldn’t have let me be born gay… right? I refused to think about it.
As I grew older I distanced myself from my feelings. I pretended not to notice the way a girl’s smile lit up her entire face, or the way her eyes sparkled under the sunlight. I ignored the way my heart hammered in my chest when a cute girl said my name or grabbed my hand during a youth game. I focused my attention toward boys, hoping against hope that I would eventually start to develop feelings for them if I paid enough attention.
There were more than enough boys who paid attention to me. I was attracted to none of them, but there were a few boys that I could see myself being friends with. So I hung out with them. I spent time with them. I tried to imagine dating them, kissing them, but every time I tried I couldn’t fight the feeling of how wrong it was. I liked having guy friends, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to be attracted to any of them. Some of them were handsome, with soft eyes and brilliant smiles. I could see how other girls could be attracted to them, but I simply… wasn’t. My heart never skipped a beat for them. I never dreamed about them. I never thought about them romantically unless I forced myself too.
I had the opposite problem with girls, however. I daydreamed about them even when I didn’t want to. My heart hammered out of my chest when I stood next to a cute girl I liked, and late at night I would go to sleep, hoping against hope that this night would be different, but to no avail. I would have dreams about girls, and I would wake up feeling disgusted. I wasn’t supposed to like girls. Yet there I was, a girl, dreaming about holding the hand of a girl I liked, kissing girls, being near girls.
I didn’t want to be this way. But I couldn’t seem to stop it. I’d never hated myself more.
Going to Church Sunday after Sunday became incredibly difficult. There would be months that I was barely functioning, smiling like a robot and pretending that my soul wasn’t crumbling to pieces inside.
I was a freak. As far as I knew, I was the only gay Church kid in the world. I’ll never forget the day I was walking through a Walmart with a relative. I saw a magazine with a basketball player on the front, smiling with his hands clasped beneath his chin, the headline read, “Gay and Christian.”
I remember my heart speeding up, a familiar heat burning behind my eyes with the threat of tears. I was feeling a mixture of relief and terror. Relief, because finally, I wasn’t the only one out there. There was such a thing as being gay and Christian at the same time. I thought it was impossible, but there, in bold color, a black basketball player proclaimed his faith and his orientation in the same sentence.
But there was terror in my heart too. Because the relative with me wasn’t exactly affirming. And sure enough, my they saw it too. I saw the disgust in their eyes. Their next words were nothing short of what I expected.
“Gay and Christian? He should be ashamed of himself.”
Little did they know, they told me to be ashamed of myself. So I was. After all, how was I supposed to know any better?
Years passed. Eventually I was nineteen, and I was finally coming to terms with the fact that I was never going to change. At this point I had dated a boy. He’d been handsome, a perfect gentleman, everything I could have ever wanted. Well, almost everything. After all, no one is perfect.
But it still hadn’t been enough. I was still attracted to girls. Not boys. After I broke up with my boyfriend, I came to this realization and fell into a deep depression. At this point I’d been having my battles with depression and anxiety, but this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
I felt unwanted, unloved, and unknown. I was a leader at the youth group I’d grown up in. I led the worship team, taught lessons to the youth, planned games from time to time, was involved in ministry in every way I could be. But despite everything, despite all the people who knew my name and considered me their friend, I couldn’t help but feel so… alone. No one knew the real me. It was all my own doing, but I couldn’t change a thing. I was afraid. I didn’t want to lose my friends. I didn’t want to lose my ministry. But I couldn’t keep my secret any longer.
My mom helped me get into counseling. It took six months of medication and intense soul searching to even survive. I day dreamed about suicide constantly. Every time I went to the doctor or visited with my counselor, they would ask about my mental health. My response was always the same.
“I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to exist anymore.”
They would simply nod and write something down on their clipboards. I pretended not to feel like a test subject.
Every night I would stay up late into the night, talking with my mom, sharing my struggles and pain.
Why was I gay? Why did God make me this way? It wasn’t fair. I loved God. I had given him everything, my heart, my soul, my life, my time. Yet he’d made me gay. I knew everyone was in sin, but this felt different. It felt like my very existence was a blot on humanity. It felt like my very existence was a sin. It felt like there was no hope, that there was no way I could ever be loved by God or forgiven. I couldn’t change myself, no matter how hard I’d tried. I’d tried for so long, I was tired of fighting. I was tired of the battle. What was the point if I couldn’t change? What was the point of living at all if there was no chance for happiness, no chance of finding love without it being a sin. I was lost. I was alone.
It was only when I finally turned back to scripture that I found the answers I was looking for. In the end, it all came down to simply looking at context and history. In a post I’ll make another time, I discovered that being gay was not a sin. That night I wept more than I ever had in my life. I held my Bible tight to my chest, rocking in my bed, thanking God over and over again for being patient with me, for keeping me alive long enough to find the truth, for loving me even when I couldn’t feel it.
My whole perspective changed. I felt free for the first time in my life. I felt like I could breathe, like I could finally live.
I decided to come out on July 12, 2016. A month before I came out, I went to my youth leaders and explained my situation. At this point they knew I was gay. I’d told them six months earlier when I first went into counseling and went on medication to help with my depression. They were supportive, more than I ever could have hoped. They loved me, and they did what they could to help me.
However, when I went to them to tell them all that I’d discovered, all that I’d learned and what I planned to do, their reactions were not what I’d hoped.
I had a feeling they wouldn’t agree with my new found theology. But I was sure that if I promised not to talk about it at youth group then everything would be fine.
Everything wasn’t fine. They informed me that if this was the path I planned to go down, I would need to step down from ministry. That meant no more leading worship, no more leading small groups, no more games or lessons. It was over. Just like that.
I told them I planned to come out. They told me they would plan for my departure. The next week I came to youth group early to discuss when I would be leaving. They told me it was my last week. And just like that, it was over.
I left that night emotionally and spiritually bruised. I’d been broken before, and this wasn’t that. But it was something close. It was a deep bruising that stretched far into my soul. I grew up in that youth group. It was my dream to teach, to connect others with Jesus, to lead students like I’d been led to know the Lord as my personal savior.
And now, it was over. In one night. All because I was gay and accepted myself.
To be fair, the Church denomination believed being gay was a sin. If I was a leader and believed it was not a sin, then it would be confusing for the students, listening to their leaders give different messages on what to believe.
They had every right to ask me to step down. And I know they still love me to this day. But it still hurt to drive away from my the only identity I’d ever known.
I’d been the Church kid. Now I was the gay kid. Out and proud.
I came out on the day I planned, and I was loved and supported by many of my friends. There was some push back from others, but I was stronger than the person I was six months prior. My heart and my soul finally had alignment. I was finally at peace with God.
My battle to accept myself was a hard won battle. But it came at a cost. I eventually had to leave my old Church, unable to stay in an environment that would only let me attend on Sundays but never serve. I found a new Church, one that not only welcomed me but affirmed me. It’s there that I’m now plugging myself back into youth ministry, going wherever God calls me and living my life dedicated to him in service.
Growing up, I never could have imagined my future looking like this. But I couldn’t be more grateful. God has used my struggles to teach me and shape me into the person he has called me to be. I feel stronger than I’ve ever been, and I can’t wait to see God’s plans for the future. Most especially, I can’t wait to see what God calls me to next.
So here’s to the future. Gay Church Kid, in love with Jesus, ready for tomorrow.