“I just kinda feel like I’m unworthy of this life. God gave me life and as much as I try, I’m living in sin. And that is the message I’m just getting from all these people around me. And I hate liking women. I wish I had a choice, maybe I do. But all I know is I’ve tried everything I can think of to be “cleansed from my sin” and I still can’t. I’m fucking wasting my life…. even if God does not view me as the devil’s work, does that mean that all of these adults around me that I respect and trust and follow are interpreting the bible wrong? And if so, who else do I go to? All I know is at the current school climate, so many adults and students are treating gay people as “the other” and I feel bad….this is the world surrounding me now and all I want to do is lie and say I’m straight because no matter how many people say “I can still love someone who is gay,” I can still feel the judgement and I’m starting to understand why people don’t like organized Christianity and why they think Christians are full of hate…. [these people] make me feel ashamed of who/what I am.”
The night I sent this I was 17 and queer- spiraling into hopelessness over who I am. I accidentally came out a few weeks before my school decided, based on their version of Christianity, that it was unacceptable to support LGBTQ+ individuals. I sent this message to my friend and hoped she would throw me a lifeline. I had been kicked out of the exclusive Christianity club and needed someone to tell me that I am still worthy of this life I’ve been given. I was searching for dignity in an environment that was bent on denying me so.
Looking back at that time in my life I am not sure how I made it out. And I guess if we are here today we join the legion of people that have survived every obstacle set before them. But I remember during that time I was sure that things would never be better. I think something can snap in a person when they are told that the most beautiful life they can imagine living is not one that they can experience and still be loved by their creator. I still wonder some days if I will ever recover from that heartbreak. But here I am, years later and trying to build a life I love.
I have grown up all my life in the church. A Mennonite church, to be specific. My parents are from Pennsylvania and I have spent my life between Kenya and the USA. First grade through twelve I attended two different private Christian schools and my parents taught at the same institutions. Those experiences have made me. They also have broken me.
I think that because I was adopted and raised in white congregations that the fracture from me and churches was less than a huge jump and more of a small leap. See, I grew up hearing of white Jesus and men that were worthy of God’s love. So anything besides man and white was an afterthought- an “of course all are included.” In that way I was already removed from the center of the religion. I peered in from the outside onto this that was supposed to be mine by heart and I tried to own it just like the other people in the pews beside me did. When I was young I think I succeeded more times than I would like to admit. Then, when I started questioning my beliefs more, around the time I moved to Kenya again in 2011, I found I wasn’t fitting into the box they gave for me to live.
I knew I was different all my life. Not only was I adopted into a white family and white culture, I knew I was queer. But my love did not fit the way the gatekeepers of religion preached so I buried my feelings alive, as deep as I could. And I kept digging and digging until I opened my eyes and found myself many feet underground with dirt falling on top of me. When I reached up and out, I was told that I needed to leave my love in the ground before I rose. I could not rise until I recognized myself as a person destined for hell, an abomination in the eyes of God, my creator. And if I did not change, Christianity could not claim me in its fold. I listened to these messages and sank into them. Deep.
Abomination. Unworthy. Unfixable. Disgusting. Mentally ill.
That was who I was in the eyes of people that told me they loved me. And for all those that did not say so to my face, their silence was enough for the message to be conveyed.
Abomination. Unworthy. Unfixable. Disgusting. Mentally ill. Troubled. Doubter. Heathen.
The gatekeepers of the church, and of my school, fed me this line with one hand and in the other they told me I could not live without them and the institutions they created. Week after week, year after year, I sat in classes, chapels, and bible groups being told that I was not to waste my blessed life by perverting the love God gave me to spread.
Then, I left my school, refused to go to churches that told me I was an abomination, and found it all to be a lie.
My point of this is not to bash Christianity because I do believe that it has the possibility to be, and sometimes is, a very beautiful religion. One which I consider myself a part of- at least as of writing this. My point also isn’t to speak terribly about my old educational institution. Because while they will one day have to face the damage they caused and let happen in the name of religion, I also grew up well and supported there in many aspects. And I don’t want to speak too heavily about the intersection of race and sexuality and gender because if I did I need to have space to add all the nuance that conversation deserves.
My point is that God exists outside the exclusive Christianity club. And that just because some Christians say who is worthy of love and dignity doesn’t mean they speak for God.
Two years ago when I came out to an individual who loved me their first reaction was to tell me they were grieving for me. I should have questioned them. What exactly were they grieving? The future they imagined for me? The future they think God wants for me? Why would they be grieving when I am on the path to creating the most beautiful life I can imagine for myself?
I think they simply did not understand that me coming out was not me moving away from God, holiness, myself, or freedom but I was moving into love. All encompassing, uncontainable love. And I am the only one who knows all the intimacies of my faith. No one can define that for me. Thank the Lord for that.
In high school my family started going to a new church. I was tentative to go at first, wary of hearing the exact same hate I heard in school chapels and other Sunday services, I dragged my feet upon going. But I went there, St. Julian’s is what it is called, and my world exploded open. It was this feeling of being safe and held and free to expand into myself. I was not told of white Gods and holy men that existed to dominate women, but I was reminded of all things good and love. St. Julian’s saved my faith. I did not come trying to hide from God but I came as I was and God met me wherever I stayed. It was a far cry from the treatment I normally expected from Christians. It was all I could have hoped from the church and I did not have to feel like I needed to sever a part of myself to sit in the pews comfortably. It felt like home.
A place where no one is a gatekeeper to heaven and we are all children of the divine. Where the divine looked at me and said, “This one here will take some of me with her into the world. I will make her woman and Black and queer. She will be beautiful and bold and intense and loud. She will be everything I love to love and there is nowhere she can go that I cannot reach.”