I was raised in that good ole, small town, religious atmosphere. Everyone you knew was a Christian, and if they weren’t it was okay, you were going to bring them a plate of spaghetti and the gospel after Wednesday night services. My dad preached, my mom had me baptized when I was in first grade. I went to church at least twice a week, attended a Christian school, and went on to a Christian college.
Scratch that. I followed a girl I was in love with to a Christian college.
I remember the first time my parents had asked about her, in that suspicious, slightly panicky way. They knew her well, as we spent almost every weekend together and every weekday talking on the phone after school. We had just returned from a church trip and I was sitting in front of my computer showing my mom all of the photos I had taken that weekend.
“And look at this one. Doesn’t she look cute?”
There was pure fear in her eyes.
Fast forward to college. I’m taking a couple theology classes, discussing different verses in their original Greek. I’m realizing that most of what I read growing up wasn’t actually correct. (Did you know there isn’t actually “hell” as we think of it mentioned anywhere in the Bible?) And on top of that I’m going to therapy. I have come to accept without a doubt that I like girls. So the only thing to do at that point was fix it. Spoiler alert: that didn’t work at all.
Following was a year of complete chaos. I was losing my faith, terrified of what that meant, and hating myself all while officially dating a girl for the first time. It was a year of secrets and fear and wishing I could just be “normal.”
It’s two days after Christmas and my mom and I are wandering around in Macy’s. I’m home for winter break and therefore had seen the aforementioned girlfriend a few days prior. Not big on subtlety, she had left a hickey on my neck that I had been desperately trying to cover up with makeup since.
We were standing in the middle of all of the coats, and my mom reaches over and points to it. “So who gave you the hickey?”
I panic. I think of at least five different lies and try to decide which one she is least likely to suspect. And then I get a crazy idea: why not tell her the truth? Maybe it won’t go as badly as I think it will. So I muster up all of the courage I have and say, “I’ll tell you in the car.”
To say she cried the entire way home would be an understatement. There was complete sobbing, a lot of apologizing, and a few minutes of silence before the tears resumed. We sat in the driveway for a long time before she told me I had to tell my father. I walked in and hugged my little brother, cried on him like a baby for a few minutes, and then stood at the bottom of the stairs leading up to my parent’s room.
I remember every single step. I forced myself to breathe as I stared at each one, willing my feet to move.
We didn’t talk long. He gave me the ultimatum of “get help” or lose my family. Since I had already tried therapy, praying over and over to be different, and finally came around to accepting who I was; “getting help” wasn’t going to work. It was a terrible night, and I still can see the porch light fading as I drove my car and a bag of clothes to my girlfriend’s house.
It took me three whole years to finally escape the feeling that I was somehow inherently wrong. It’s hard to relearn and undo what you had been taught into adulthood. But with patience, lots of reading, and a few good cry sessions, I made it out on the other side. I met so many wonderful people – Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists – all who showed me religion does not make you a good person, your spirit does. I stopped living in shame and started loving out of joy instead of fear of an unknown and angry god. I read books about spiritualities that resonated with my soul and felt like home. I found home within myself.
I still believe in a higher power: an energy, a life force. Every living thing: plants, animals, and people all have this divinity inside of them. I don’t believe you need to go to church to find god. I believe people are good, and that love is beautiful. I believe that telling people they will be eternally condemned if they don’t believe the way you do is wrong, and that taking care of each other is our duty on this planet. I believe each and every lifetime after this I will find my loves again, and that life is breathtaking.
For those of you in the same situation I was, things will get better. I know it’s scary, and you feel alone, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel. The rate of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth is staggering. According to the True Colors Fund “In America, it is estimated that 1.6 million youth are homeless each year and that up to 40% of them identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” That is an incredibly high percentage.
There is nothing wrong with you. You are not evil, or corrupt. You are beautiful and divine, no matter who you love. It’s hard to know your worth when you grow up in an environment that tells you otherwise. If you are struggling, reach out. Whether it be to a trusted friend, a mentor, or even to us. Your life is precious and the world wouldn’t be the same without you.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline