Dear John: Will she be scared straight?

3407822267_28fcdf2417_zYesterday I received from a young woman this letter:

Dear John,

My girlfriend and I have been together for a year and a half now. She is actually the one who pursued me. She’s been my best friend, and we have had our ups and downs, but she says that I have her heart.

She is Hispanic, so any lesbian or gay act or relationship is shunned. She is also very religious, but came to the conclusion that God loves her for her.

About a week ago, though, she said she couldn’t be with me anymore, because she wanted to follow the Bible. I know for a fact that this is coming from a friend of hers who is constantly in her ear, telling her that she is going to hell for being with me.

I still see her at church, and I have (as bad as it sounds) begged for her back. Now we talked yesterday, and she just sounds scared. She’s come out to almost all of her friends, but her parents and most of her church don’t know about who she really is, so she said she’s tired of hiding. She told me how her family and church would shun her if they knew about her. But she continues to tell me how much she wants to be with me, and how in love with me she is. She even cried on my shoulder as she said it.

So I mean I am really at a loss here. I’m hoping that if I pull away and give her space and time she’ll come back to me, because she has done this before, and she came back.

Oh, this is so difficult.

I cannot imagine what I could tell you that you don’t already know. Your friend is scared and confused. How could she be anything else, when her family, her church, the very culture in which she was raised and lives, and at least one of her friends are constantly telling her that who she is and how she loves is an affront to God for which she is bound to be punished by an eternity spent writhing in mortal agony?

For all of her life, the poor girl has been trained to believe that she is her own worst enemy. It’s hardly a surprise that for so many LGBT people—especially amongst the young, who of course are always so much more vulnerable—the intense, relentless, unceasing pressure to self-negate finally leads them to commit suicide. I believe—and am certainly hopeful—that it won’t come to that for your friend. She has, after all, you. And thank God she does.

Do for your friend all that ultimately any of us can do for those whom we love: be there. When she wants to talk, talk. When she wants to cry, lend her both your shoulders. When she wants to rejoice, let loose your hurrahs. And if ever she feels that she needs to back away from you—to in any way spend some time trying to prove to herself that she’s not gay—let her do that, too. As you know, part of being gay is going through all kinds of periods where you hope upon hope, and try to convince yourself, that you’re not gay.

Which of course you’re desperate to believe—you know: so that your family, your friends, and God won’t think you a despicable animal.

Man, there is nothing more touching than a person trying to make themselves worthy of God’s love, and nothing more tragic than such a person believing that their only hope for achieving that worthiness is to cease being the very person whom God created them to be.

You had the right idea there at the end of your letter: your best bet for having your troubled friend return to you is to give her all of the time and space that she needs. If she doesn’t come back to you as your lover, she’ll likely return, and stay, as something arguably even better: your friend.

Here’s hoping that whatever happens, and to wherever or whomever she goes, she returns, first, foremost, and forever, to her God-loving, loved-by-God self.

P.S. You said that when it comes to her sexuality, your friend wants to follow the Bible. In this essay I prove (which I know is a strong word, but … there it is) that not only does the Bible not condemn homosexuality, it condemns Christians who do. Please encourage her to read that essay. Likewise encourage her to read the book from which it is excerpted, UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question. Over half of UNFAIR comprises letters written to me by gay Christians telling of their life-long struggles, tragedies, and amazing personal victories; their stories are, I know, so much like your friend’s that they are bound to bring her comfort and inspiration—as, I hope, would those essays of mine which follow the letters. I did this book very specifically for people like your friend and her family.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Roger you know

    Pastor John-There might (I said might) be a lucrative (by your standards) job (with benefits) in pastoral ministry. Your compassion and prophetic voice is important.

  • Matt

    Well, Letter Writer, at least your friend isn’t alone. Being caught between what you know to be true about yourself, and your family/church? I am so there. It’s one of the most difficult, if not THE most difficult choices a person is ever faced with.

    But I can also say that listening does work. Really. Your friend has to work this out on her own in the end, because only she has every piece of information she needs (and she will need everything she’s got). But when you’re trying to sort through mountains of feelings and information and input, sometimes you just need a non-judgmental ear. It sounds like you’re more than qualified. And it makes all the difference, trust me.

    If she’s comfortable and so are you, spending some time just getting a bite to eat or taking a walk can help too. Just as friends, just as a way to let off steam for her. The pressure can be so intense that it’s hard to know what “normal” feels like. There is nothing wrong with putting your problems on the shelf for awhile and having some (healthy) fun, even very serious problems like this one. It’ll be there when you get back, but you won’t feel quite so beaten down.

    I hope that you and your friend can find some peace, however that comes for both of you.

    • Soccergirl

      I see where you are coming from I mean more than anything I just want her to come back to me and say I want you back. I want to be with you. I am a wreck. I have tried drinking and just stupid stuff because I saw myself being with her forever and you know she said she did too. It was believable considering all that she did for me. She has really been my rock. I am trying my best to understand her situation because I know it is hard and unfair to ask her to stay with me. It’s just hard hearing her say how badly she wants to be with me and loves me but she always says but I can’t. It hurts its like my heart sinks to my feet but I love her so I think what is best right now is to give her space. Let her breathe and think. My phone is always on for her and it always will be. I just hope she makes her way back to me.

      • Matt

        Ah, you are the letter writer? It’s so nice to meet you.

        I’m glad you’ve realized that drinking and so on is “stupid stuff.” Don’t try to run from the emotions you’re having right now. Feelings this painful and intense seem like they’ll never end, but they will. You have my word on that. Hurting yourself in any way will just add more problems to deal with.

        One of the hardest lessons to learn is that we can’t control other people. She will do what she does, when she does it. While she’s off doing her thing, take good care of you. You’re dealing with so much that you’re going to need to give yourself some extra attention for awhile. But you’ve got this. You’re really doing exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. That’s so awesome!

        • Soccergirl

          Thank you! It’s been a struggle. I keep waiting for that text that’ll be like I want you back. It’s a hope but you know I believe that if they love you like they say they do then they’ll come back. I’m willing to wait for her. I’m not saying I’m gonna sit on my hands and do nothing I’m just you know going to distract myself by seeing friends and working out and stuff. I just you know as bad as it sounds I want her back. I want her to accept herself because I’ve been with her for over a year now, that girl is not straight I don’t want to label anyone but I really think she is stuck between a rock and a hard place and she is trying to shut me out so that she won’t hurt me. She keeps telling me there’s no hope but then she says all I need is time because I feel suffocated. I mean I respect that. She is in no way shape or form a bad person. I don’t agree with what she is doing but I am not in her situation I do not know how she is feeling or the pressure she is under. I just wish I could take her away somewhere so that she could see that people will accept her for who she is.

      • Lymis

        I’m so sorry. This has to hurt so much, and in a particularly horrible way, because the way it’s set up, you aren’t competing in her mind with another person, you’re competing in her mind with God.

        Whatever else you do or say, she’s going to hear the situation as “leave God and be with me.” And she’s going to present it that way to you.

        I never was in a situation where I did that to another person, but I can somewhat relate because I did it to myself. I bought the idea from the Church that I could not be both gay and Catholic, and as a result, I was nearly 30 before I had sex with anyone, and in my mid-30′s before I was even dating seriously.

        It’s an incredibly difficult hole to climb out of, and in some ways, uniquely so for Catholics (not that people of other denominations don’t have other unique challenges, too).

        The only advice I can give sucks. Because the only advice I can give is to live in the moment on this – let it suck, let it be what it is, don’t hold out hope of any one particular version of the future. If she wants to be friends, try to be friends. If any aspect of it hurts too much, don’t damage yourself pursuing it, and if you have to let her go and move on, let yourself do that, even though it hurts.

        Lean on your other friends. Maybe this is a temporary loss. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is opening doors for each of you that you couldn’t have had opened any other way. All you can do is have the firm conviction that, whatever happens, you have it in you to turn it into “a” right answer for you, and that you have it in you to live in such a way that you can look back at this and see that where you went as a result was good for you. It sucks being in the middle of a story – but that’s all this is. There is more story coming, whichever way it goes.

        But it sucks and it hurts and it’s supposed to. If it didn’t hurt, you wouldn’t be human. The pain of losing (even, possibly, temporarily) a love is proof that you are capable of that love.

        • Jill

          Matt and Lymis,

          I am just grateful to know even a little, that I can benefit from your wisdom and your life experiences. I am not the same person that I was when I first arrived, and that has made all the difference. Great teachers and great comforters, both of you.

          Truly you are changing this world.

        • Soccergirl

          I have been leaning on my friends. It just hurts a lot knowing that there is nothing I can do. I can tell her God loves her for who she is we all sin we all have our weaknesses but love is love. I want her to sit down and talk to someone who has experienced this because it is almost like she continually convincing herself that she can’t be with me. I want it to be a temporary loss because I just keep hearing in my head over and over how she said that God loved her for her and that I wasn’t going to lose her. I haven’t texted her or anything and I feel bad doing that but it’s my way of giving her space. Backing off so she doesn’t feel so suffocated. She keeps tweeting about how much she misses me and how sad she is and just want to tell her it’s okay to be gay. As much as it hurts you and you feel like it may not be. God accepts you. Even her friend when she read the bible to me and we talked about it said that she can repent. She can pray about it and ask God for forgiveness because all sins are forgiven. I dont think its fair that she has to give up someone she loves and I know she does love me, all because she is scared. She continues to tell me she wants to be best friends still and do all the stuff we had planned this summer. I even asked her, how would you feel if God really did want us together and to that she said then we can be together. That is what makes me think this isnt permanent. She is just confused. Last summer this did happen but it was a lot worse she did not want to see me she was always mad at me etc. I do have hope that she’ll come back because I know deep down that she wants us to still be together. And the fact that she acknowledged that God could lead us back together shows me that she has hope that he does want us together. I mean maybe I’m holding on to something that’s already gone I just know that I see myself being with her and that’s what I want so I know I have to be patient in order for anything to happen.

          • Lymis

            Is there a possibility of directing her to some gay-supporting churches in your area? Or for you to do so and getting their perspective? Any gay-friendly church will have plenty of people who have gone through this, on both sides of it.

          • Lymis

            “I haven’t texted her or anything and I feel bad doing that but it’s my way of giving her space. Backing off so she doesn’t feel so suffocated. She keeps tweeting about how much she misses me and how sad she is and just want to tell her it’s okay to be gay. ”

            I’d break radio silence to raise exactly that point – you don’t want your silence to be misinterpreted as feeling betrayed or abandoning her. If she is tweeting out that she misses you, you have ever reason to ask whether it is okay for you to tweet back that you miss her too. You can give her control of how much space she takes, unless it starts harming you, in which case you can set your own space.

  • Humblina

    Hi Letter writer,

    I was exactly where you are a year ago. I even wrote to John and he responded and I had many supportive responses. I really wanted to be there as a friend for her to help her figure out her sexuality. But unfortunately you cannot carry that burden, that is her burden to carry and figure out. It will not work with you being her friend trying to support her in whatever decision she makes; because she will be not only torturing herself but also be torturing you. The best piece of advice I have for you is to walk away (it doesn’t have to be permanent) but she needs to figure this out on her own and maybe after a year or so you two can entertain a friendship again.

    Stay strong and let yourself go through all the emotions; don’t be hard on yourself when you have a surprise uncontrollable cry. You are beautiful and deserve someone who will meet you at 100% not 50 or 85%!

  • Valarie

    Dear Soccergirl,

    I have very little to add to all the wonderful comments already posted here for you. So, just know that I agree with what has been said above.

    John has proven to be a great to support to me as my fiance’ struggles with her very conservative Christian family. You will find the love & support you need here and with your understanding friends and family.

    And mostly…

    (((((((((HUGS))))))))))))

    There are never enough of those to go around.


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