Alex has written a stonking book called ‘Walking with Gay Friends’, which I highly recommend. Tomorrow, she’ll look at how we can support those struggling with their sexuality.
But for now, here’s some of her story:
“There was a girl in two of my classes when I was 17 who unknowingly showed me without doubt that I was a lesbian. Though I hardly spoke to her (girls I fancy have always caused me to lose the power of speech and make me into a bumbling idiot), I was very aware of how clever, creative, funny and pretty she was. I was very aware too of the effect that that had on my emotions and body. Yep, definitely gay then.
So by the time I left for university the next year, I had plans about some of the things I wanted to do once I got away from my parents and old friends, and had the opportunity to reinvent myself. I wanted to see what it was like to be out. I wanted to see what it was like to get past the bumbling mute faze and actually land myself a girlfriend. I couldn’t wait.
It was just my luck then that one of the first people I got to know was an evangelical Christian, which made her far from the woman of my dreams. I had to admit though that she did not fit with my preconceived image of an evangelical. She wasn’t all socks and sandles, nice but dim and smile-Jesus-loves-you. She was actually intelligent and funny, and…normal. She did things I considered ridiculous like reading the Bible and believing that a bearded man in the sky could grant her wishes, but I did actually really like her and she became one of my closest friends.
Though I came from a family where crucifixes were worn around necks and babies were christened, I had given up any thoughts that there was anything worth acknowledging about Christianity when I read my freebie Gideon Bible that I’d been given at school. Flicking down the index, my eyes were drawn to the words Sexual Immorality, in the same way that one’s eyes tend to be drawn to the rude words in the dictionary when you are innocently looking up the word vagility (actual word). What I found there made me close my Bible and vow never to open it again. It described ‘homosexual offenders’. I knew I was gay and I also knew I had never chosen it. I discovered it about myself but there was nothing I could do about it. To find a book that described me as an ‘offender’ was enough to make me dismiss the whole thing as out of date and bigoted. It did not fit with my reality.
Now though, I was faced with a friend whom I respected, who lived her whole life according to this book. What would she think of me if I came out to her? Would our friendship survive? We had regular discussions about her beliefs but the sexuality issue hadn’t come up until one day she told me that we needed to ‘have a chat’. The chat consisted of her telling me that she knew that I was gay (she later told me that the fact that I was the only person who was in an all-female hall by deliberate choice was her first clue. The second was the dungarees) and still loved and accepted me, and that by the way, I was going to hell.
In reality she put it much more sensitively than that, making it very clear that my sexuality and my eternal destination were not in any way linked – being gay didn’t send you to hell, but not trusting in Jesus, whether you are straight, gay, male, female, anything, was a dangerous state to be in. The only message I really picked up though was that she seemed to be rejecting me. Even though I didn’t believe in God, I was still extremely offended by her suggestion that I did not have an automatic ticket to heaven. The whole thing was pretty much a closed subject to me from then on.
Fast forward to a year later when my friend once again started beating the God drum. Her Christian union were putting on a week of lunchtime talks and she invited me every single day. This was extremely annoying and I figured that the best way to shut her up was to dutifully attend. The fact that they had free food also helped. Each day I told her politely how interesting it had been but that I was not interested in discussing anything further. Part of the reason for this was that the content of the talks was getting under my skin a bit. Some of it made more sense to me than I wanted to admit and it had set me thinking more than I felt comfortable with. The final talk came on the Friday, asking whether Jesus was just a good teacher or something more. By the end of the talk I was convinced that Jesus was God and that my need for his forgiveness was greater than any desire I could ever have for anything in this world. I realised that having a relationship was what I desired most, but was also incompatible with a life with Jesus as King. I became a Christian. I was utterly devastated.
Looking back to that day nearly 14 years ago now, is still painful. I truly believed that I had nothing left to live for. I knew that the Bible said that gay sex was wrong. I also knew I could do nothing about my gayness and the thought of being alone and celibate for the rest of my life with no hope of a different outcome meant that almost every dream I’d ever had for myself was shattered. I read in the Bible that day that “The LORD is close to the broken hearted”. It was a comfort to me that day and on many others since, as I felt literally broken on the inside. I was desperately unhappy and lonely, and often longed for death. I felt this way with little relief for many years.
It’s always tempting when giving a testimony to tack on the happy ending where Jesus makes everything better and life turned into a Disney narrative. I am always very suspicious of those stories. What I see in the lives described in the Bible, and what I see in the authentic stories of Christians around me, is work in progress. In the same way that buildings being built are covered in scaffolding and you can’t see what’s behind the rusty poles and the builders’ bums, lives are invariably messy, but hearts are being slowly changed. I am now not the lonely despairing Christian that I was for a long time, but nor am I a walking victory, free from all forms of sexual temptation and converting strangers with my Christ-like smile.
The good (wonderful) things are that I’ve learned that God can redeem friendships that have gone astray, no matter how far. He’s a God who makes broken things new again when you give them to him. I’ve experienced friendships like David and Jonathan’s – real, loyal, life-affirming love that is intimate and vulnerable and yet not sexual. I’ve learned about loving friends without having to possess them. I’ve been invited into other’s families so that I can share the joys of their children and then go home again and have a proper night’s sleep. I’ve learned that I have a bigger identity than my sexual orientation – I am a beloved daughter of the King and he delights in me! That enables me to accept myself as I am because that’s what he does. I’ve learned to trust that his ways are best and so choose them with a willing heart after years of fighting and screaming at him for taking things away from me.
I am still broken on the inside. I still get bitterly jealous of couples both gay and straight. I am sometimes pulled up short by an aching heart and sudden tears when yet another friend tells me they are pregnant. I still get lonely among Christians especially, where single, childless women in their thirties and beyond are an alien species and no-one really knows quite where to put us. I am still hurt and enraged by some of the things that I hear and read Christians saying about gay people. I am still sad and sorry for the things that I hear and read gay people saying about Christians. I am torn between two warring worlds, never fully feeling part of either.
But I am a work in progress. My story is still being written, and that is true of all of us. My struggle is my sexuality but I stand shoulder to shoulder with those whose struggle is anorexia, depression, mental illness, physical illness, doubt, envy, pride…there’s something for everyone. But in our weakness we can also say all the more clearly that Jesus is brilliant because the brilliance clearly doesn’t come from us. And that, I guess, is the gospel”.