When you start to think for yourself again after trying to conform yourself to various Christian doctrines for nearly a decade, it can be a confusing process. It’s similar to smashing a building and then sifting through the rubble to see what still remains.
I told most people at my old evangelical church who asked that my reason for leaving centered around my support for LGBT rights. While there were many reasons, that was definitely at the top of the list. It simply didn’t make sense to me that the LGBT people I knew and loved for years were all doomed and destined for hell, just because of whom they loved. It didn’t even make sense according to my own concept of God, who loved people as they were.
Support for LGBT rights was not acceptable at my church – either the Catholic church or the evangelical one – so I quietly distanced myself from the activism I once held. I never became fully convinced that it was bad to be gay, but over the years, I started to wonder if maybe the church’s view could be more correct than mine. After all, they had their interpretation of the Bible to back them up (even if I thought their interpretation was weak) — all I had were my own personal opinions, which I was told were the wrong ones. At the very least, maybe it was “unnatural” to be gay. But I never felt strongly enough in agreement with the church to change my voting accordingly or to speak out against LGBT rights.
After finally extricating myself from all churches, I returned to my previous degree of full acceptance of LGBT rights. I got a couple shirts with pro-LGBT sentiments, which I wore to express my support of my LGBT loved ones. I thought I was being a great ally. The story I told myself and my former church acquaintances about my departure was that my decision was all about my support for the LGBT people I loved.
But I still felt that there was more to it than that, and I only recently figured out what it was: it’s actually about rejecting what the church would say about the real me.
I am bisexual myself, even though I’ve been married to a man for almost 24 years. Being bisexual was once a very big part of my identity, even though I was and am in a monogamous relationship. My husband knew about that aspect of me before we got married, and many of my closest friends knew as well. It wasn’t anything I ever told my family nor was it the kind of thing I shouted from the rooftops, but it also wasn’t something I thought I should be ashamed of.
It was like any other preference. Like “this is what I like, but it’s not a big deal.” I am equally likely to be sexually attracted to women as to men. But being married, I’m not going to act on any of those attractions, so therefore it’s mostly irrelevant.
But then I came to realize that over the years in church–especially the years I spent in the evangelical church–I had come to view this fact about myself as something sinful and shameful. I tried very hard to block out even noticing when someone else of any gender was attractive.
When you come to view yourself as inherently flawed and sinful, just because of something you desire — even if you never intend to act on it — it’s like putting yourself in a cage. You can’t possibly like yourself if you think there’s one part of you that’s so unacceptable you must never think of it again.
One of two things happens when you try to completely block something out: either you become obsessed with it or you become a self-loathing mess. (Or both.) There have been numerous high-profile cases of famously anti-gay preachers or politicians who get busted having gay sex on the DL: those are the ones who become obsessed with the aspect of themselves they try to block out.
I was the second case. I became so focused on my lack of acceptance of being bisexual that I came to completely hate myself. I grew ashamed of who I was. Considering that I was first attracted to other girls in elementary school, I’m pretty damn certain about who I am. It’s not anything that’s likely to change. And it wasn’t a source of anguish until I started going to church. I internalized those anti-LGBT messages really deeply and aimed them all at myself.
There’s a great deal of freedom in finally letting yourself be who you really are. So I’m attracted to both men and women: so what? But simply choosing to stop pretending otherwise is incredibly liberating and that provided the greatest relief when I left church.
I’m faithful to my husband and intend to stay that way, so I think that should be the only true measure of my morality. In realizing that the gay rights issue was ultimately my reason for leaving church, the person to whom I was granting unconditional acceptance was actually myself.