Content Warning: Instances of verbal abuse and religious anti-gay bigotry.
Growing up a queer child of a Baptist pastor, the word “pride” did not have the best connotations for me. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction,” and because of this, my parents communicated discomfort regarding this word and many other terms and phrases used within the LGBTQ community. They said it was wrong to accept yourself, because they believed everyone is inherently sinful. They rejected the idea of “following your heart,” quoting the Bible where it says, “The heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked.” They said I shouldn’t identify as gay, or queer, because, “Someone who is tempted to steal will not call himself a thief.” And of course, they hated the idea of pride, because they said, “Sin is nothing to be proud of,” and interpreted pride to mean arrogance.
When I told my dad that some scholars thought that King David and his dear friend, Jonathan, were in a romantic relationship, he said, “There’s no way, it was a different time then, men were just more affectionate in that culture.” He was okay with David, who the Bible calls “a man after G-d’s* own heart,” being an adulterer—even a murderer—but not bisexual. When I took comfort in a Bible verse which says Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet, without sin, my father said it was unlikely that Jesus had been tempted with what we called “same-sex attraction.” When I saw myself in the Apostle Paul‘s “thorn in the flesh” comment, and conjectured that perhaps Paul felt what I felt, again, my father did not agree. He did not want me to see myself in anyone, or relate to anyone. My cousin is queer, and a few years older than me, and as soon as my father knew I was gay, he told me I was not to speak to her. He didn’t want me to have role models, or someone to look up to. He didn’t want me to watch gay YouTubers, or have gay friends, or call myself gay.
I came out at 13, telling my parents I “struggled with same-sex attraction.” I could barely get the words out, and it took me years to realize there was no need to struggle. As I came to terms with my sexuality and learned to be authentically myself, the church gossips demonized me and I felt agonizingly alone. My parents told me love between two men could never be real love, and that if I left the faith, I’d never feel true peace with G-d. At 18, I made my escape from the toxic environment my parents had created. A friend’s family took me in and welcomed me like one of their own children. Later, I lived on my own and supported myself while trying to save money for a college education. At 19 I joined the military, because I didn’t have the support or resources my parents offered my older, straight siblings. I navigated basic training as one of only a few queer members of my flight and found a community of accepting friends at technical training. In late 2020, I moved to Minot, North Dakota, only knowing one person here.
For so long, I was sure G-d had abandoned me, and I wondered if it was because I was gay. And then I found G-d everywhere I went. I found Her in an old church sanctuary as the congregation joined the pastor to say, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I found G-d, or something like Them, deep within myself, where my resilience lives. I am learning to see G-d in every person, tree, mosquito, and in my cat, and the wind, even when it makes my lungs cold. Maybe we are made of G-d, or maybe G-d made us—maybe both are true. When I lived in what Mary Oliver calls, “The orderly house of reasons and proofs,” when I believed one way was right, and all others led to destruction—I shut G-d out of every door I thought They would never use. When I denied myself compassion, I denied everyone else compassion. My queerness opened me up to see the world for what it is—beautiful, vast, and full of unknowns.
It’s possible that my childhood and adolescence would have been easier if I weren’t queer, but I am so, so glad I am. I wouldn’t give it up for all the iced coffee, Oreos, and Lady Gaga concert tickets in the world. I cried so many nights as a young teen because I believed I would never find love, or that when I found it, I would never be at peace. I found love, in chosen families and in romantic relationships. In April, I took my boyfriend to my hometown. I showed him the beach where I came out to my sister, the park I would drive to when I felt alone. I showed him the church that was a safe haven for me while I was coming out, and the bedroom where I journaled about my fear that I would never find someone like him. If I could send a letter to my past self, I’d tell him, “There’s nothing wrong with love, you’ll be okay, and happiness exists outside of the boundaries set by your parents’ narrow-minded view of faith.” I would tell him, “You’ll find everything you need, and so much of it will be within yourself.”
I am not arrogantly proud of my queerness. I am proud in the way someone is proud of climbing a mountain and making it home to tell about it. Because I did climb that mountain, and I am finally home to tell you about it.
I wrote this essay for a Pride Month Open Mic Night I got to help organize at Main Street Books in Minot, North Dakota. If you are struggling to accept yourself because of the rhetoric of your religious upbringing, please reach out to me at email@example.com. There is a place for you, and you will find joy and peace. If you are having suicidal thoughts, text START to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386 to reach The Trevor Project in the United States. Here are resources for those outside of the US.
*To me, the name and concept of G-d is a serious thing. As a way to communicate reverence, I use a dash in place of the ‘o,’ so that the full name of G-d will not be erased or used without thought. When I see it and use it, it reminds me that, if G-d exists, They are bigger and more complex than I could ever imagine. This is something I have done for a number of years following the practice of Jewish newsletters and online publications.