I first sensed I was different in grade school, but I became aware of my sexuality in middle school. As a child, I knew I wasn't like the other boys. Being queer meant that I did not fit into society's expectations of what a boy should be. I was interested in art and music more than sports, guns, and cars. I was also keenly aware of my emotions. Although these things aren't true of every gay boy, they were certainly true for me. These things were deemed "feminine", which made me feel ostracized. As a teenager, my attractions to guys heightened my sense of being different.
Until my 20s, I didn't think LGBTQ Christians existed. My worldview was such that you could not be LGBTQ+ and Christian. LGBTQ people were defined by their actions, stigmas and stereotypes shown by the media. Being LGBTQ+ meant partying, drinking, doing drugs, and dying of AIDS. I didn't want those things for my life and I certainly didn't want to give up my faith. If I had come across an LGBTQ+ Christian, I would have doubted the legitimacy of their faith. I would have judged them and deemed my faith as more authentic because I was following what I deemed to be "God's Word".
My beliefs changed incrementally through experience, studying Scripture, and meeting or reading about LGBTQ+ Christians. While getting my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies, I learned the significance of biblical interpretation and how cultural context matters. Not only does one's social location affect how Scripture is read, but that of the writers also has much to say about what was actually meant in the text. My junior year of college, I had a professor who came out as transgender. Having witnessed first hand his deep love for God, I started to wonder if the things I grew up believing simply weren't true. By the time I came out to myself, I had read a blog by two Side B, gay Christians. This was yet another affirmation that one could both accept their sexuality and authentically love God. It is then that I accepted my attractions for what they are and embraced who I am as a gay man. Over the course of my college career, I went from not believing LGBTQ+ Christians could exist to fully accepting the place of LGBTQ+ people in the Church and God's work in the world.
I'm fortunate insofar as I was studying Bible at a Christian university, so I had a plethora of resources as I researched what the Bible says or doesn't say about LGBTQ+ people. The greatest resources were LGBTQ+ Christians and hearing their stories. When you meet people and hear what they've been through, you can't deny what they tell you. Stories show people that the things you think aren't possible very well can be possible. At the time I came out to myself, I was living abroad in the middle of a missions program. I found great support in the queer Christian community, particularly that of Q Christian Fellowship and the Facebook groups that have come out of it. Coming to terms with one's identity can be isolating, especially if you aren't connected with anyone whose story is similar to yours. I'm thankful for technology and the ways in which it connects us. The internet has done wonders for minorities in this way.
How would I describe my life now? Before I answer this question, I have to say that coming out is just the beginning. The freedom you experience is great, but it doesn't mean there won't be hardships. Some of the challenges come from family members or others who view things differently. Some of it comes from internalized homophobia, which takes time to unravel. That said, life outside of the closet is better than I could have imagined. I'm more confident in who I am than I've ever been before. Whereas I used to not feel masculine enough, I now accept myself as the man that I am. My faith is more authentic, there is room for doubt, and it's more honest. Whereas I used to not trust my body, I'm now more integrated and honor the body God's given me. Being out and sharing my story, I've connected with so many people at different points in their journey. It's been great to give back and be the LGBTQ Christian I wish I'd had to look up to growing up.