Ashley recently came out as a gay Christian and found it equally hard to tell her gay friends that she is a Christian, and her Christian friends that she is gay. You can read more about her journey of faith and sexuality here.
For a description of these interviews and for Part 1: A Mother’s Story, click here.
What was the catalyst that motivated you to come out to your parents when you did?
There was not one specific trigger that led to me coming out to my parents, but a series of events that sort of domino’ed into my coming out. I had told three gay friends over the previous two years, but had not given up on trying to have a relationship with a man and live a heterosexual lifestyle. Over the summer, I began wondering if I could be honest with a few of my closest friends. I had been attending a new church community for about six months and began feeling more confident that I would be accepted as a gay person by the community in general, even if not by every individual.
Then in the fall, I saw the news reports of teen suicide linked to anti-gay bullying and the “It Gets Better” videos that were being posted in response. My heart broke for the young people who had taken their lives, and the countless others wrestling with the same thoughts, because I know what its like to feel so hopeless and desperate. If I could have spoken to any one of those kids, I would have told them “there is no shame in being who you are”, the same words that were shared with me the first time I sat weeping on a friend’s couch as I finally admitted all the self-hatred I had bottled up within me. Yet I knew that by fearing coming out, I was still living in that shame.
Within a few weeks of seeing those videos, I returned to my university in New Brunswick for a visit. I had a few opportunities to tell two of my closest friends face to face, but chickened out each time. Then on the day I was leaving, another friend asked me to have coffee with him and he began our conversation with “I’m gay.” I was overwhelmed with joy for him, and admired his courage and self-acceptance. I shared my own story with him, and decided I was ready to come out. Telling my friends was much easier than telling my family, because although rejection from anyone would be difficult, rejection from my family would hurt the most. But I knew if I was going to be out as a gay person, I did not want to hide that from my family. And the overwhelming acceptance and love I encountered as I told even my most conservative friends gave me hope that my parents would also be supportive.
What were your concerns a couple days before telling them?
I began coming out to my parents by having an indirect discussion with my mom about homosexuality and the Bible. That conversation led me to believe that she had more questions than answers, which might mean she would be able to accept my orientation without thinking it meant I was rejecting my faith. I planned to tell her in the coming weeks after my visit to New Brunswick, but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking specifically about what I would say or how I would say it.
I had a lot more fear and anxiety when imagining telling my dad. I tried to be realistic and hopeful, while still preparing myself emotionally for the worst case scenario. I acknowledged that he may respond with anger, confusion, fear, or shame. He might want to have a theological argument and I didn’t feel prepared to try to defend a pro-gay interpretation of scripture, let alone whether I even agreed with one. He might yell, he might not listen to me, or he might cry. He may also surprise me, as my mom and other conservative friends had, by being more open and accepting than I had imagined. I had to keep reminding myself that I knew my dad loved me and was proud of the adult I am becoming. I hoped that no matter what was said, he would remember that and be able to communicate it to me.
What was going through your mind when you were telling them and how did you feel?
With both my parents, it was a very different experience because I told my mom directly, and about a month later she told my dad. One afternoon my mom and I were driving to the grocery store and I just said “I have something to tell you.” My stomach was in knots, I felt shaky and didn’t know what to expect from her or me. I had no idea what I was going to say or how to say it, but it came out in pieces that I’ve been trying to figure out who I am and I experience same gender attraction. I tried to reassure her by saying it was something I was still figuring out, and that it didn’t change what I value in a relationship. I wasn’t about to start sleeping around or ‘experimenting’. The rest of the conversation is a blur, but I left it knowing my mom loved me, and believed that although she had questions and would need time to process, she would likely come around to affirming my orientation.
With my father, I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him when I had it. I don’t live at home, and so I don’t see my parents very often, and I was entirely unsure of how to begin the conversation with him. I decided to give myself some time to write a letter to him so that I could think through what I had to say. My plan was to have coffee with him, tell him what I wanted to say and leave the letter for him to read. The letter was not a replacement for telling him vocally, more just a way of assuring that what I wanted to say would be heard despite the emotions my initial coming out might raise.
When my dad began to ask my mom questions about the new friend I was spending time with, she had a choice to make – she could lie to my dad or tell him the truth, because she knew that this new friend was a girl I had begun to date. I completely understand why she chose to be honest with him, and can understand that if I were in his position I would hope for the same. At the same time, I felt like something had been lost by me not having the chance to tell my father myself.
I expected more of a dramatic response from my mom. I think she still has some of her own questions to process through, especially because she had expectations about what my own family would look like someday, but she has been accepting and has even met my girlfriend. For my dad, there has been more resistance. His initial response included statements like “homosexuality is Satan’s counterfeit of what God created to be holy” and he expressed real concern that I should no longer be allowed to spend time alone with my ten-year-old niece. This hurt more than anything else that he said, more than his thoughts on the Bible and God’s views of homosexuality, and more than his inability (at least at this point) to accept that I do not have a choice about being gay.
Yet throughout our conversation, he assured me he still loved me. I deeply believe this is true, but it is hard for me to reconcile those two pieces of the conversation. I believe his judgment of homosexuality comes from a place of fear and misunderstanding, and not of hatred. I do not think he initially understood that my relationship with Kathryn is based on a desire for intimacy on so many more levels than just physical. Attraction is more than just a sexual experience, for all people, and yet for the LGBTQ community it is regularly boiled down to just that. This discredits the depth of intimacy that is possible between all couples, regardless of orientation, because it suggests sex is the only reason for and expression of intimacy.
I know that my father is trying to understand me and I hope someday he will accept Kathryn as part of my life. I am willing to allow him that time. It was a difficult journey for me to reach the place I am at now and I recognize that this is a difficult process for my parents as well.
You have mentioned that you work at a Christian organization. What has it been like there for you as a Christian that happens to be a gay woman? Have you had any good conversations with coworkers?
I am lucky because my workplace is built on being accepting of all people. We work with adults with developmental disabilities, and accepting people of diverse abilities, ethnicity, and faith traditions is inherent in the model of our workplace community. I know of other openly gay people who have worked for the same organization in the past and felt confident that I would not be discriminated against because of my orientation. That being said, there is always a level of fear of rejection when telling another person something so personal about yourself, especially when you are not sure how they will respond.
In all my coming out conversations, I have had maybe three or four that were uncomfortable, where I felt that not only did the person disagree with me, they also judged the quality of my relationship with God based on this one part of my life. I am completely okay with people disagreeing with me, and have had great conversations with a few who do, its when that disagreement is coupled with a judgment of the condition of my soul that I get hurt. It’s hard because this judgment always comes from ‘loving’ people who genuinely care and want to ‘speak truth’ into my life. How do I respond to such love? I feel like defending myself, fighting back, or judging back. I know that is not Jesus’ way. So I imagine loving the person, and then feel pride because I am better than them for loving them. Of course, this is also not Jesus’ way.
One of the best conversations I have had with anyone since coming out happened with a coworker. He had seen that I was reading Love is an Orientation and started asking me about my journey. Through the entire two-hour discussion, I found myself amazed to be engaging in open dialogue with someone who had a different view of homosexuality. Neither of us were arguing or trying to convince the other, but thoroughly sought to understand each other’s perspective. And the most amazing part was that as I felt my own walls come down, I could honestly admit the areas of my faith that I am still struggling to reconcile. Yes, I am living as an outed gay Christian, but I still wrestle and struggle and am unsure. To have dialogue, to be heard and understood by someone who disagreed with me, was so validating. Yes, God will judge me for my life. And I will fall short for quite a few things – my greed, my pride, my complacency, my judgment of others. And yet I believe in His grace, my redemption through Christ.