When I was 14, my “One True Love” ™️ was my best friend. He and I had known each other longer than either of us could remember. We had similar interests (mostly books and language) and our families had been wishing us together since before we stopped believing in cooties. Their ‘ship game was so strong, it kinda repelled us for awhile (aided by the fact that we were still young and in the awkward stage of our physical development).
In May of 1996, our families hung out for the first time in ages. His grandmother was best friends with my late mother and they saw each other regularly. But this was the first time we got to go as well in several months. It was the first time I’d seen him since he’d been firmly in the middle of puberty and I was equal parts stunned and mesmerized. His intellect had expanded and he was toned and muscular. Within minutes, I found myself physically and mentally attracted to him.
The ship between our families renewed, we started to see each other almost every weekend. We would get teased, turn pink, and wish they hadn’t seen us flirting. We’d almost kissed a few times, but being in such close proximity to our families made it downright impossible. I thought we were on the same page and for a moment everything seemed perfect.
Then, one day in July the unthinkable happened. He told me he was gay. I was crushed. It hurt me more deeply to know that his feelings for me hadn’t been a lie. This was before either one of us knew about the Kinsey Scale or understood that sexuality was a spectrum. His orientation didn’t prevent him from having feelings for me, but neither one of us knew what to do about that. Of course, good “christian” girl that I was, I hit him with all the scriputre and “Adam and Steve” references i knew. But truthfully, that was more out of a broken heart than concern for his immortal soul.
We stayed in each other’s lives throughout the rest of high school and our relationship continued to evolve and change. The summer after my 10th grade year, I met and started hanging out with a girl I met at a birthday party. We’ll call her Peach. She didn’t come from a religious family as I did and being with her made breathing easier. I didn’t feel the pressure to be perfect and never had to consider how my behavior reflected on anyone else.
To understand how toxic this was for me growing up, it’s important to understand what kind of family life I had. I wasn’t supposed to talk to people who weren’t Christians, my mom had to approve all my friends – not to ensure they weren’t a bad influence, but to make sure that they wouldn’t “stain my witness”. My mom got me a religious exemption from an assignment on Beowulf because she thought astrology was of the devil. Yeah…so my life was pretty intense. Other than my lifelong friend, I didn’t date until I moved to college 650 miles away.
By the time I turned 16, my mom lightened up on who I could call friend, but there were conditions placed on it. She knew I wouldn’t get rid of Peach as easily as she would like so she tried to stay as involved as possilbe. Peach’s horrible crime? She was a bi agnostic. My crime? Being able to relate to Peach. I’d always had questions about our belief system, logic dictated a lot of flaws within the faith. My family saw my general questions a sign of my intelligence. But anytime my curiosity wandered into religious doubt, I went from being a star student to be lauded to a heritc who needed to be silenced.
With Peach, I found my unease about religion understood and my questions encouraged. No one thought me blasphemous, just analytical. It was the first time in my life I felt okay just being me. Being with people I didn’t have to wear a mask for was a welcomed breath of fresh air. As my new group of friends got to know me better, I became more relaxed around them. Peach and I used to go to the mall and pretend to be someone else. She was a foreign exchange studen from the UK and I a flirty, confident, agnostic bi named Sabrina. We walked through the malls flirting and holding hands wondering if we’d see someone we knew and laughing at their inevitable confusion when we didn’t break character. It was easily the most fun I had during my high school years.
The character of Sabrina was (and is) something I loved. As I introduced her to more of my friends, they gradually became convined that it wasn’t a complete act. At the same time that they were suggesting I might be bi, my mom was accusing me of it. Queerness would not be tolerated. I assured her it wasn’t true and told my friends it couldn’t be. Did they know my mom? This was the woman who flipped out when I wrote a girl friend’s name all over my pencil box. A woman who I was too scared to tell when the girls in the locker room started teasing me when I looked at them. Who hated the idea that I had queer friends. Regardless of what the truth was (or how much I focused on Megan Mullally’s legs during Will & Grace) I would never be “allowed” to be anything other than straight and that was that.
For years, I tried to be everything I was expected to be. I went on mission trips, found a Christian college, joined ministry teams and dedicated myself to being the perfect embodiment of my childhood training. It wasn’t until I realized I was passing on that same toxic energy to my kids that I realized how problematic it all was. This only increased after the church’s response to the death of my sister. The kids didn’t understand why their prayers had gone unaswered and the pastors around us warned against questioning God’s soverignty.
But why can’t we? Why must we quietly obey everything we’re told never once stopping to ask whether or not what we’re doing makes sense? Why is the very idea that maybe there isn’t one religion to get it all right considered shameful? Why are we forbidden from trying to acertain whether or not we believe what we’re taught? There is so little room inside the box we’ve been put in that the more we grow, the harder it is to breathe.
So, I stepped out of the box. It does me little use so I got rid of it. The interesting thing is that I feel more like a red letter Christian now that I don’t identify as one at all. I’ve found more unconditional love outside of the church than I ever did within its walls. And yes, I understand that #NotAllChurches are like that. If you feel supported at your community house of worship, that’s fantastic and I’m happy for you. But I kinda like it out here in the open air free of the constraints I’ve felt choked by my whole life. The box is gone and I don’t see myself building another.
May you find freedom in whatever your belief system is. I wish you peace, love, and unlocked chests in Dragon Age.
Have a great weekend.