This series is meant to be read in chronological order. If you haven’t read chapters 1-5, you’ll want to find those before continuing.

The October after that summer, as previously mentioned, my sister got married, 14 days after my 17th birthday. I was doing really well leading up to it, ecstatic for her. But that night, as we were saying goodbye to her, the tears began to flow. I started to think about our late-night conversations, our long, drawn-out hugs, our wonderful, brother-sister moments together. And I felt a deep sense of regret, feeling like she had never really known me for me. I had hidden everything I knew she wouldn’t like, and thus hidden most of myself from her. Seeing her drive away, the rain drenching anything not covered by my umbrella, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to our closeness—and any closeness that could have one day been reached, had I been more open with her.

The day after my sister was married, I sat in a Starbucks with my friend Jake, and he tried as hard as he could to tell me that life was still worth living, that I could be happy one day too. But it’s difficult to convince a gay person growing up in a society like ours that they can be happy and fulfilled without the companion (and, in many cases, children) they so desperately desire. I believe this is the case because of two things. One, our culture is obsessed with romance and love. Even straight people have to battle this push to date and find a significant other when they don’t feel it is Christ’s will at the time. So that’s an issue we must work through. However, the second issue is a little harder to push aside. Because when God gives the desire for companionship, for family, He often intends to fulfill it. And it seems to me quite harmful to tell queer kids that they are not allowed to hope for a non-hetero relationship, when this hope is as natural to them as is the hope of your average teen girl to find a handsome, caring guy to marry someday. Nevertheless, non-affirming Christians often try to encourage us with whatever they can. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciated this. If it weren’t for the encouragement of non-affirming Christians, I may not be here today. But straight people can never understand the kind of pain that gay people go through, and they certainly can’t begin to fathom the kind of pain they have themselves inflicted on us. So, their encouragement comes up short. God used my queerness to teach me that my faith was not dependent on anyone or anything but the blood of Christ and my salvation through that sacrifice. Much of the time, I didn’t see it, but looking back, I realize I was running to people all too often, when I should have been running to God. God loves His queer children just as much as His hetero children; He does not make a distinction. And when I run to Him, instead of listening to what those around me say, He comforts me and encourages my spirit in a way I should have never expected my friends and family to.

I did run to God, over and over. One night stands out to me—I’ll jump ahead a bit in the storyline to share it, but it’s a good representation of the way life was many times throughout those years. I was alone that night, seemingly all of my friends, high school or college age, busy doing something. I would often look for friends to hang out with on weekend nights because the loneliness got to me. But no one was available. So, after writing or doing homework at a Starbucks for a couple hours, I began driving home. It was raining—my life often resembles a gothic novel, with the atmosphere reflecting my inner emotion—and I took a few turns to make the usually 7-minute drive longer. I had met with Kim and Ben the day before, and my thoughts were all spinning around being gay. Which wasn’t a rare occurrence, really—being such a minority often causes someone to think about their other-ness in a way that the majority never has to. As I was driving, I began to pray, crying out to God. So many questions began with why. Why do I have to feel alone all the time? Why am I gay? Why can’t I just be straight? Why’d you make me this way if you hate me for it? Why’d you make Ben this way? Why do all of us have to go through such misery, and on top of it all, be so misunderstood and ostracized by our friends and families? Why don’t you love me? He only ever answered in the quiet thoughts that trickled into my mind, against the raging waters of the evangelical teaching I had been raised with. He would whisper His love for me, but I would push it away. I didn’t believe He could truly love someone and let them be queer. My church tried to say God loved everyone—even queer people. But it is hard to believe God loves you when you are given a set of impossible standards to follow in order to earn or retain God’s love. I should be clear that this is only the impact the church’s words had on me, not the church’s words verbatim, in any sense.

One day, I learned my parents had told my younger sister I was “struggling with same-sex attraction” weeks or months before. I was encouraged, for a moment, in that she had never treated me differently. As I said earlier, though, I never wanted to admit to myself that my younger siblings would ever (need to) know about me. But that idea was shattered by the reality of my sister being a teenager and me not being any straighter. The night my parents told me that, I broke down crying on their floor. They asked me why I was crying, they were confused as to why I would be so emotional about Grace knowing. I answered, “I hate this. I hate myself. I hate being gay. Why did I ever have to be gay?” They tried to comfort me, but they couldn’t. Their beliefs did not allow them to say “God loves you anyway,” for fear that this would come across as acceptance. In their hearts, they really just wanted me to turn straight as much as I wanted to.

Coming out was always difficult. As a non-affirming person, I never knew how to talk about it with secular friends. But I’ve always been open with anyone I’m fairly close with, so I had to navigate this many times. I had one coworker, working at a library, who was a sister at the local abbey, and I didn’t realize it until months after she left. Still, she was one of the first people out in the non-church world with whom I felt comfortable speaking openly. Judy was her name. She’d listen, and give me advice on the issues going on with parents and friends. With her, and several other coworkers, I could just be myself without any judgment, even when I judged myself.

My sophomore and junior years of high school, I went to a sort of one-day school/co-op for homeschooled kids. I loved every bit of it, because I loved people and I quickly made a lot of friends. This presented a whole new group of people I was forced to come out to. For some, I decided when I would tell them, and others, they just picked up on it themselves, often deciding to pass their theory down the grapevine. The difficult thing was discerning the homophobes and the non-affirming folks in a group of conservative Christians. Non-affirming, I could deal with, I respected—I was, myself, mostly non-affirming at that time. But my homophobic friends, I just had to let go. I never wanted to lose them, I tried to continue being friends and keep that part of me from being an issue with them. But usually, they distanced themselves from me after a while. One girl I was friends with was understandably ignorant, but caring, and for maybe a semester we were fairly close. When she got a boyfriend, though, he was uncomfortable with my being friends with her, so out the door I went. I’d like to think I’m upstanding enough that I wouldn’t even consider dating a guy who was homophobic. I’d like to think that my sisters are upstanding enough that they wouldn’t even consider dating a guy who was homophobic.

I constantly had to navigate friendships—usually with girls—in which I was loved and accepted as a person, but not accepted for being gay. These friendships usually worked out fine, but there were moments in which suddenly, they grew uncomfortable with me, and something went awry. That was always frustrating. In my junior year, though, the majority of my friends were completely affirming, and serious Christians at the same time. This made conversation easier, because I didn’t have to pretend to be a little straighter or keep myself from saying a boy was cute. I shared geometry class with two girls who were my best friends that year, and we’d talk about the current drama and usually sit together for lunch.

A straight person can never really understand what it’s like to be gay in high school. You have to learn who you can trust and who’s just going to go tell everyone anything you whisper to them. You have to figure out who knows, who told them, and how they feel about it. Instead of people judging you based on the person you actually are, the general public thought is dictated by one facet of your person. It can get intensely frustrating. I remember my second year, being determined to spread the rumor that I was bi (a common shortening for bisexual, usually referring to someone who is sexually and romantically attracted to both genders). Somehow, this was better than being gay. I thought people might respect me more, if they thought I was attracted to girls. Finally though, I gave up. And I didn’t care what people thought. Some people seemed to avoid me, but mostly, things were okay. I had my fourteen friends, many completely affirming, and I was content.

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