“Lauren, you’re not a lesbian.” My friend finished her sentence and I stared into my hands to avoid her eyes. I knew if I looked up, her gaze would be kind and compassionate, but I felt my own eyes sting as the blood rushed to my cheeks. My face turned crimson with the deep shame and embarrassment that I felt knowing that she knew what I was hiding. “You’re not a lesbian,” she repeated.
She was right. I wasn’t a lesbian.
I was actually bisexual, but didn’t have the vocabulary or anyone in my life who fit that description to explain my “conflicting” feelings. Even when I did have the words, the shame remained and I felt deeply alone.
I grew up Southern Baptist and spent my whole life in the Evangelical church. I was heavily involved in the campus Christian ministry, The Navigators, during my undergraduate studies and felt a calling to ministry after graduating with a business degree. A dual-degree program at Baylor for a joint MBA/M.Div program seemed like the right fit even if Seminary seemed like a totally out of the blue decision to everyone but me. What no one knew was that I had struggled with “same sex attraction” (SSA) for the better part of a decade and Seminary seemed like a great though expensive and time-consuming way to straighten myself out. I knew that was ultimately what God wanted for me, and I was eager to gain His approval. Not to mention, I wanted to avoid that whole hellfire and eternal damnation part of being gay. Seemed unpleasant.
I was an anomaly even to myself. I had no history of sexual trauma or awful relationships with the male figures in my life. I had been in one rather bland relationship in high school that only made me question why I was so apathetic towards dating rather than stir up man-hating ideological leanings. I didn’t hate men. I didn’t hate my dad. I didn’t do copious amounts of drugs or go clubbing every night or have sex with random women in dirty alleyways like the people in the “gay lifestyle”. I was a Seminary student, for crying out loud.
I graduated from Seminary in 2017, and over the course of my studies, I moved towards an affirming theology. I was 100% on board for marriage equality, ordination, and equal rights for LGBTQ+ people in and outside of the Church. What I was not on board with was publicly acknowledging that my stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion pertained to me much more than I was letting on. Coming out felt like career suicide. Finding a leadership role as a woman in ministry is hard, but finding a job as a queer woman? Forget it.
In April of 2018, I made the decision to start moving towards fully coming out. My cousin’s husband had recently filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage when he came out as gay. His decision to marry my cousin likely stemmed from the repressive, anti-gay rhetoric that is so pervasive in Christianity. The whole scenario elicited in me a kind of terror that I had never felt before. I realized how easy it would be for me to marry someone I didn’t love and inevitably hurt both him and our children in incalculable ways. I realized that in my hiding, I was still being eaten alive by shame and fear. I knew my life would never be the same if I came out, but I also knew I could never fully love myself, my neighbor, or God if I didn’t.
Six months later I was fully out, dating my beautiful, Jesus-loving girlfriend, and working for the largest LGBTQ+ Christian organization in the US. My biggest, soul-crushing secret is now publicly displayed in my work profile next to mundane facts about my educational history. The friend who told me I wasn’t a lesbian is now an amazing LGBTQ+ ally. I can walk into church every Sunday and not feel like God is going to smite me on the spot. I know that God loves me, exactly for who I am and who He has made me to be. In our fear and self-loathing we often forget that in the beginning He called us good. I hope others like me can experience the freedom, the joy, and the gift that comes with being an LGBTQ+ Christian.