This series is heavily chronological. To read the three previous chapters, visit levipierpont.com/c1, /c2, and /c3, respectively.

Next came a season of crippling doubt. I never went full atheist, but I certainly admitted to being agnostic. In a blog post, I wrote about my struggles with faith and God and asked people to pray for me. I should note that my doubt did not, in any sense, come from a desire to “live any way I like” or justify having a relationship with a guy. It was more about missing the Presence of God in my life and feeling like His absence meant He did not love me. Church friends and extended family members commented on my post, others sent long emails, some met with me over lunch or coffee. And over the next few months, I believe I felt the direct impact of their prayers. Without much really changing on the surface, my faith came back to me, and I’ve never doubted the existence of God since. Somehow, I just know He’s there. I’d come to doubt His love for me, but when it came to the simple fact of His being, that was settled there. I also felt a deep love from my church family that comforted me, and has continued to mean the world to me throughout the years. No matter what I was going through, men and women—from college age to, well, quite old people—were there for me. They didn’t all know my pain, but they’d hug me, ask me how I was doing with genuine concern in their eyes, and often pray with me.

Learning How to Come Out

One summer, I went to a Christian teen conference with my youth group. It was a week of sermons, workshop sessions, games with other teens, and sleeping in a college dorm with a bunch of other guys. Struggling with same-sex attraction often makes this uncomfortable. Not for the reasons you might expect, though. Staying in rooms or cabins with other guys has always felt natural to me, assumably because I’m a guy, and I can’t imagine it being any other way. But being gay has a tendency to change your perspective of girls and women in a way that can often be irreconcilable in conversation with straight guys. When the guys around me would have objectifying, disrespectful conversations about girls, I felt awkward, uncomfortable. I couldn’t add to the conversation, nor did I want to, because the girls they talked about were my best friends. I would often silently judge the guys who would join into such conversations, but I also knew that if I was with a group of girls, talking about a guy in a similar way, I might be more likely to join in.

One person at that conference came to mean a lot to me—Kayla. That’s her real name, because her part in my story is entirely positive. She was on the social media/camera crew for the conference, always on the sidelines or in the aisle, getting videos of the action. I met her in the coffee shop, and we connected quickly. Somehow, without having much serious conversation, we drew together like kindred spirits. As a queer person, even a non-affirming* one, you begin to fine-tune your acceptance radar. You learn the kinds of people you can be open with, and who you have to guard your secret around. Kayla was someone I sensed I could share everything with, and we had a few serious conversations later on in the week. Looking back, I think she was easily the first or second person I met who loved God, saw the Bible as the Word of God, and still accepted me for me—even before I accepted myself for who I was.

Another person I came out to was a youth leader on the trip—Alex. Again, this is his real name, because none of his part in this was negative. One night, he asked if we could take a walk and talk, and of course, I said that was okay. I think I anticipated the question long before it was asked, but I didn’t want to get ahead of him. As we passed by a pond on the campus, he sat down on a bench, and I followed. The conversation came around to what he really wanted to discuss, and he sweetly gave me opportunities to share what was weighing down on me. But I was scared. So, so scared. What if he meant to talk about something else, and I unwittingly gave away this dangerous secret? Finally, he just asked. “Do you struggle with same-sex attraction?” I broke down. I told him everything. He was kind. He offered to be a source of accountability. And this experience—coming out to people who did not accept me, but “still loved” me—was repeated many times, and after a while, it became comfortable. I’d assure them that I did not want to be gay, that I didn’t believe it was right. In turn, they’d feel comfortable with me. (This next part is said a bit sarcastically, bitterly even, but bear with me.) Sure, I was gay. Sure, that was strange to them. But at least I hated myself for that difference. At least I felt slightly othered for that difference. At least I wanted, desperately, to be like them. At least I knew God didn’t love me as much as He loved them. At least I wanted to end my life on a weekly basis, just to end the constant turmoil in my soul. At least the fact that I was gay was never accepted as lovely, beautiful, God-given, God-intended. Because, oh, dear, son, don’t ever imagine that. Don’t ever imagine that God loves you as you are. It’s the devil’s lies.

As that week at the conference came to an end, I happened to have an open conversation with the kid I was rooming with, telling him about a crush I had, a stranger from another church attending the conference, and he decided it was information he could then pass on to his mom and a slew of friends, many in our youth group. Coincidentally, I saw his texts to his mom, and her response communicating harsh distaste. This crushed me. I had never had personal information flung out of my control like that, and it scared me. In addition to this, his mother—and grandmother, for that matter—had been people who showed a lot of love towards me. And to see that this woman would so willingly speak so awfully about me, once she knew I was gay, made me realize people could pretend to be my friend, but if they didn’t really know me, I couldn’t trust their friendship. His mother even treated me just as well when I saw her again, which opened my eyes to the fact that her kindness had been simply on the surface the whole time.

That night, after we had all packed to go home, and everyone else was falling asleep, I walked out into the lobby area, sat on one of the couches, and cried. I cried for the broken trust I knew I shouldn’t have given in the first place. I cried for the reaction I just happened to see, from someone I thought cared about me. I cried for my dangerous, awful secret, now escaped to who-knows-who. And I cried for being me, because really, that was the root of it. I hated being gay, I hated the way people talked about me, I hated feeling unloved by God, I hated feeling alone. I hated myself, with a bitter anguish that gripped my gut whenever I had a chance to think. That night, I fell asleep crying on that couch, and when we woke up, I got in a van with the kid who had so willingly shared my secret.

Back home, I managed to stay in the closet. The mother of this kid was apparently not awful enough to simply take the liberty of telling everyone, but she did take it upon herself to let one of the pastors of our church know, “just so he’d be aware.” Sadly, this is the way many Christians respond. Instead of recognizing the pain of being queer, they decide it is their duty to let others know the danger of having a queer in their midst. My pastor then told my parents, “just in case they didn’t already know,” and neither of these people ever discussed it with me. This was one of my first experiences with a church being so totally un-Christlike. Of course, there were more.

Around this time, I also began to doubt my church’s interpretation of Romans 1 and similar passages in the New Testament. They all agreed that the Old Testament passages could be disregarded for the most part when it came to the Law today, due to Christ’s fulfilling of the Mosaic Law. So while they didn’t bring up the harsher Leviticus passages, they believed that the New Testament’s passages, plus Jesus’ own words regarding the nature of marriage, were enough to condemn homosexuality. They maintained that gay people should be loved just as much as straight people, but they said that if someone was a “practicing homosexual” (whatever that is) living in a “homosexual lifestyle,” (not sure about that either) they could not be treated as a Christian. As if it would somehow come across as kindness, they’d often clarify that they’d treat a heterosexual couple the same way if they were living together. The only difference, of course—which will be pointed out by any gay person you give this lame explanation to—is that an opposite-sex couple can just go get married, and you’ll accept them completely. Whereas a same-sex couple would be forced to break up and cut all ties just to gain your approval and the supposed approval of God. I know I may sound disrespectful or arrogant regarding this issue—I’m intensely tired of dealing with it, and this has produced a lot of snippiness when it comes to the discussion.

I researched the issue, finding that many people said those passages only condemned same-sex promiscuity or prostitution, and this made a lot more sense to me. (And just so you know, I’ve not only read the articles and books on my side, I’ve read most of the articles and books and rebuttals on the other side—I am not simply in need of resources.) Why would God give me the desire for a thoughtful, attractive, wise, loving husband—a desire which came innocently and naturally as a child—if He did not intend to fulfill it? Many Christians tried to compare their own sin struggles to my own, but whenever they did, their analogies fell short. They’d often get to the end of their explanation, smiling at me like a child presenting a recently-glued craft, and I’d almost feel like I was crushing their hopes of an easy fix when I said, “no, that doesn’t really apply.” Many of their analogies didn’t work simply because they ended with an expectation that I would turn hetero at some point, if I just sought God hard enough. I knew this wouldn’t work for many reasons. 1) I had been self-aware of my queerness for a few years, and changing seemed unlikely. 2) Other non-affirming Christians struggling with it (LivingOut.org) didn’t expect God to simply change their desires. 3) I didn’t believe it was God’s will to “heal” me and lead me down the path of normality. I know many of you will disagree with my conclusions about this, and I respect that. I will love you anyway, even if it’s frustrating, because practicing love for others is the second greatest commandment.

More difficult times came, and I only grew more doubtful of what I’d been taught. But I didn’t outright tell anyone that. I think as a protective mechanism, I didn’t discuss it with many people, and later on, I would only admit to doubt, maybe disbelief, but never complete disagreement. Looking back, I think this was also God protecting me. Consider for a moment, how dangerous it would have been for me to come to a place of outright disagreement with my faith community. Not only, then, would I have been a depressed, suicidal, gay teen questioning God’s love for me. I would have been a depressed, suicidal, friendless, gay teen, questioning God’s love for me.

When it was the right time, God dried up the sea so that I could walk through it. But if it hadn’t been His timing, I would have likely drowned.

*Affirming, also known as side A: the philosophy that queer people are intentionally and affectionately created by God, and same-sex relationships are just as lovely to God as straight relationships. / Non-affirming, also known as side B: the philosophy that queerness is unnatural and that same-sex sexual activity, romantic involvement, and relationships are abhorrent in God’s sight.

This post was written in August of 2018 and originally published in February of 2019.