How can you put into words what it’s like to be rejected? Not just from family and friends, but your faith community and being told, ultimately, the Divine. You would think after 5 years some things would get easier, and some have. But for some there is a lifetime of theology, tradition and doctrine that you hear constantly growing up, that you can’t shake. No matter what you do, it’s been so hard-wired into your brain for so long, it’s like second nature…sometimes good and sometimes numbingly painful.
I was raised in a very conservative, very fundamentalist Christian household in the southern half of Oklahoma. My father was a pastor for over 30 years of the same church, and it was his voice a lot of times that words such as “abomination”, “unnatural”, and “unholy” were said almost on a weekly basis.
I knew he was talking about me, but I tried so hard to fit in and do more for “God” to overcompensate for the way I was feeling…these “tendencies” I had toward the same sex.
My parents knew. There were signs for a long time, but even when I decided to come out a few months shy of my 34th birthday, it was my faith that was in question. They didn’t question the 33 ¾ years of living a life of praying so hard I thought I would sweat blood or the nights of crying myself to sleep praying that God would change me and make me “normal.” They questioned my faith because they believed I wasn’t reading my bible enough. They thought I should be doing more in the church to keep from thinking about such things.
To clarify…my faith journey was different that a LOT of other people’s. Living with a pastor for a father would be intense, at best. Most pastor’s kids live, eat, sleep and breathe the church but the religion I grew up in was a little stricter than most. Your life wasn’t complete unless every free moment of your time was spent in the preaching and evangelizing work. It wasn’t enough just to believe, you had to help others see what “real” faith was. So much so, that guilt played a big part in the religion. Guilt of not doing all you could, may mean that the blood of others would be on your hands if you didn’t do as much as you could in the preaching and ministry work. So besides the guilt of the church, the example of my parents, and the expectations placed upon everyone with the religion, I didn’t go to church, church was my life.
Since I was able to read (around 5 years old), I was reading scripture from the pulpit, standing up and giving mini-sermons to the congregation on different bible topics, going from door-to-door passing out literature and telling people the “truth” about God. Right after graduating high school, I spent 3 ½ years of doing ministry work for 90 hours a month, and working a full-time job to support myself. I was the church treasurer, helped with the sound system, even gave a sermon one Sunday.
I kept hoping that such involvement in the church, would cause God to set me straight…literally.
If I did more, all that I was supposed to and then some, I could be “fixed.” Wondering if the only option to get rid of these feelings and possible rejection was to end it all, was very real and swam through my head numerous times. I also struggled with the notion that obviously if I couldn’t change the way I felt, then something traumatic must have happened early on in my life to cause me to be this way.
Let me just state for the record, being sexually abuse does NOT make one LGBT!
Sadly, some in the LGBTQ community have been sexually abused as a child, but persons who have experienced abuse by a person of the same sex are not predestined to be gay or lesbian because of such abuse.
I didn’t care how painful the memories might be, I just wanted to know the reason of why I was being plagued with such a burden. It took me a long time to understand that there wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do, that my parents did or didn’t do, it just was. I was gay, plain and simple. Now telling my family was a different story.
Church policy stipulated that not only would saying the words “I’m gay” cause you to be excommunicated from the church, but it would also mean that any active member of the church (family or friends) would not be allowed to speak to you again.
That’s exactly what happened to me. I haven’t not spoken to my immediate family (my father, mother, younger brother and 1 aunt) and several friends I had in the church in over 5 years. My father was very well known in the state through the church, and there have been several times when I’ve seen people in other congregations in other towns, in a store and when they see me, they either turn and go the other direction or walk past me without looking or talking to me…like I’m a ghost.
I know that this rejection is extreme and does not happen to such an extent to a lot of LGBTQ people who come out. But I do know that the fear of rejection is real and that there are hundreds of LGBTQ teens that are homeless because their families have trouble with the fact they are different, or have deeply engrained religious doctrine that causes them not to be able to reconcile their theology with the love of their child, family member or friend.
Finding a Reconciling Congregation was not only a blessing but a saving grace.
Church was the last place I thought I’d ever go, and especially in one of the most conservative states in the country! But after much prodding and some dragging, I walked into a place that said I was not only welcome, but celebrated as a human, a child of the Divine. Then to be able to learn different ways to follow my faith journey, to be able to explore differences in theology and it be welcomed, has been a new and exciting experience.
I may have left one life, but the new life I have is so much better, and it’s one I’m actually living.