When Words Like “Gay” and “Lesbian” Mean “Bad”

There’s so many ways that this post could be misinterpreted that I almost wish I could put a disclaimer after each section. C’est la vie!

In short, I’m suggesting that the church’s synonymous association of gay with “bad” is more harmful than anything else. Queer sexuality, in particular, needs understanding and not denial. I’m definitely not trying to suggest some sort of post-modern, pop philosophy of embracing yourself, regardless of sin. Instead, I’m trying to say that the church’s insistence on associating queer sexuality with sin is blinding us to God’s purpose in it. That was certainly my own experience, which I share in the story below and hope to unpack in the coming weeks.

Gay and Lesbian Sexualities Are Good, Christian

“That’s gay.”

My brother sounded sarcastic. I was barely old enough to be in pre-school and had never heard the word “gay” in my life.

“What’s ‘gay’?” I asked, but a grown-up in the room quickly hushed us, mumbling something about it being “bad.” My curiosity was piqued, but I didn’t press any further. “Gay” meant “bad.” I catalogued the definition in my brain, and for years, that’s all the word ever meant.

Growing Up Evangelical

As a child of conservative evangelicalism, I learned to associate the word “gay” with “bad” as a matter of course. Lengthy discussions on the topic seldom took place — only quick references to things like “sin,” “hell,” “twisted,” and “unnatural,” as if “gay” and “lesbian” were just convenient synonyms. So limited was my understanding of the topic, that I didn’t even really know what the word “gay” actually meant until I got my first job at the age of sixteen, and a co-worker said I “turned her on.”

Now before I continue, I want to be clear. The conservative, evangelical community of my childhood remains one of the single greatest blessings in my life. I’m forever grateful for the way I was raised, and I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for the world. My childhood was one of the happiest you could imagine, full of love, care, and strong familial bonds.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that nothing is perfect. As I reflect on the ways that I’ve grown, some of these imperfections in my community are bound to arise. That’s neither a sign of bitterness nor resentment. I was a happy child and remain deeply grateful for the way I was raised.

Unfortunately, as grateful as I am for it, my upbringing taught me that “gay” and “bad” go together. And since I was a good little Christian, I never imagined that the word “gay” could have anything to do with me. Never once did I consider that my sexuality could be “different” or that my life trajectory might not follow the traditional path of marriage, sex, and family.

I didn’t even know it was possible.

Growing Up “Wrong”

Puberty wasn’t easy for me. I knew that guys and girls were supposed to “like” each other, but no one gave me the secret recipe for kick-starting that process in myself. One by one, my female friends were falling for guy after guy while I sat on the bench, baffled by their behavior.

At first I tried to pretend. But apparently I had zero taste in men and picked the most undesirable boys to “like,” earning myself bouts of laughter and teasing.

So I tried a different approach, but that didn’t work out either:

“Oh, I don’t like boys in that way,” I said matter-of-factly to a pair of girls. I must have been 12 or 13 years old.

They’re eyes grew wide, and one turned to the other in disbelief and whispered, “Is there something… wrong with her?”

I wanted to slap myself but tried to recover instead. “Well, I mean…” I stumbled over my words, desperately trying to appear casual. “I mean… I just said that because I’m too embarrassed to admit who I really have a crush on.”

Both girls perked up, and I pointed to a guy who just so happened to be walking nearby. “I like him actually.”

The look of confusion on their faces didn’t matter much, as I was just relieved to be on safer ground. I mumbled something about his hair being cute and was grateful when the subject finally changed.

Afterwards, their question lingered in my mind like the aftertaste of a bad meal. Was there something wrong with me? I didn’t think so, but how could I be sure? And if there was, how was I supposed to fix it?

Thinking Like a Lesbian

The first time I ever thought of myself as a lesbian was during my freshman year of college. I was attending a conservative evangelical school (at which, I should make clear, I had an excellent and wonderful experience), and a bunch of my friends and I were driving somewhere. As was typical of our little group, somebody eventually posed a question:

“Who would you be,” they asked, “if you weren’t a Christian?”

Unbidden and completely unexpected, the immediate thought that jumped into my head was, “A lesbian.”

And it was more than just thinking “lesbian.” I could see myself. Or what I imagined to be my non-Christian self. I was kissing a female partner. No, I was having sex with her.

As my friends discussed their responses, two things occurred to me. The first? I would make a great lesbian. The second? There’s no way I could say that out loud.

My turn came around, and I found myself saying, “I’d be a feminist.” And the discussion continued into a dialogue about the ways in which feminism was incompatible with a Christian worldview.

Is it possible to be a Christian and a feminist? The thought never occurred to me. Just as it never occurred to me that being a Christian and a lesbian was perfectly possible too.

Living in Denial: I won’t be gay.

Shortly thereafter, I asked my mother what it felt like to have a “crush.” I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know. She explained, and I spent the next few weeks attempting to convince myself that I had such feelings for a guy. To my own stupefaction, I began to realize that I did have such feelings.

Just not for a guy.

As it turned out, I’d known what the girls in middle school had been feeling the whole time. Never did I think the attractions I experienced could possibly fall into the same category. Call me naïve.

But I was a Christian. So I couldn’t be gay. Right?

I’d swallowed the mindset that oddly seems to apply only to LGBT+ identities. There can be boy Christians and there can be girl Christians; black Christians and white Christians; Baptists and Lutherans; straight Christians and… well, actually, there can’t be “gay” Christians. Identity is found in Christ alone.

And don’t get me wrong. Identity is ultimately found in Christ alone. But we can easily twist this idea to mean what it shouldn’t. Indeed, my own twisted understanding of identity in Christ led me to deny realities that desperately needed acknowledgement.

The result? Throughout my college years, I lived something of a pseudo-existence. I was attracted to women, but that didn’t mean anything at all. I couldn’t possibly be gay. I wouldn’t be gay.

I prayed to God for a man. I performed mental exercises in my journal where I attempted to create feelings for the opposite sex by simply imagining that I had them. I dated with the expectation that one day something would “spark.”

But nothing ever did.

Facing Reality

I started having nightmares the summer after I graduated from college. They were always the same and always terrifying.

I stood in the balcony of a church looking down upon a wedding. The atmosphere was eerily quiet and the sanctuary empty, save for a single man who stood at the altar, presumably waiting for his bride. As the bridal march began, I looked to the back of the church, where I saw myself step through the doors.

Shock rippled like a wave through my system as I watched the sight unfold. Down below, this alternate version of myself wore the veil and gown of a bride and walked in zombie-like fashion toward her husband-to-be.

The sight horrified me. What was I thinking? I couldn’t get married! Everything was terribly wrong. Leaning forward over the balcony, I screamed down to myself, “Stop!” But no sound came out, and the ceremony continued.

The “bride” version of myself reached the front of the sanctuary and began to recite her wedding vows. My stomach clenched. I waved my arms in hysteria, trying to get someone — anyone’s — attention. “Stop!!! No!!!” I shrieked. “I haven’t decided yet!”

And then I’d wake up. Always at the same moment. Always breathless. Always shaken.

I had been getting married. It was exactly the future I was trying to force myself to want, but my words in the dream betrayed me: “I haven’t decided yet!” Decided what? That I wanted a man? But a man was the last thing I wanted. I’d never wanted it.

I was determined to not be gay, but how far was I willing to take that game? If I didn’t concede, one day I’d find myself walking down the aisle towards a man I didn’t love.

And I couldn’t do that.

Pulling Back the Veil On Homosexuality

Despite all the trends toward liberalism in the past decade, there remains a thick shroud over the concept of homosexuality in most Protestant churches. It’s the reason why people like myself remain closeted even after coming out, and it’s the reason why even the most orthodox and traditional but nevertheless gay believers must immediately qualify that they’re celibate.

No on ever wanted to know that I was celibate when they believed I was single and straight. But everyone in the church wants to hear that I’m celibate when they find out I’m single and gay. Almost universally, this is followed by an exhortation to open my heart to the possibility of finding a man. The message is clear — the default option is heterosexual marriage. Anything else would be “less than.”

But heterosexual marriage was the last thing I wanted. After watching myself walk down the aisle again and again, I realized that forcing myself to accept a man could be the most awful thing I ever did.

Despite all my efforts to the contrary, I didn’t actually want what I was trying to want. And maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. Maybe there was a reason I was different.

Turning to Scripture

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” – Ps. 139:14a

At this point, there’s a lot of ways that I could be misunderstood. So let me be clear: I do not believe that people just need to learn to love and accept themselves, regardless of scripture, logic, and truth. There’s a reason the world is messed up, and it’s because the people in it, including myself, are broken beyond their ability to repair. We need a Savior to fix us.

However, in our defense of original sin and mankind’s need for redemption, we run the risk of forgetting that every single man, woman, and child is created in the image of God. We are “knit together in our mother’s womb,” (Ps. 139:13); and underneath our broken condition, God’s handiwork remains, shaping our lives and making us “tick.” Our design shouldn’t be denied so much as understood.

I spent years believing that my sexuality was something to be denied. Never once did I consider that it was something to be understood, that it was worth knowing in the spirit of Psalm 139:14, “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I hadn’t studied the word of God to truly gain a biblical understanding of my sexuality. I’d read the so-called “clobber” passages, which declare homosexual sex to be a sin, and left it at that.

But “no” was never the basis for a healthy worldview. There’s a reason why the God of the Bible is a God of “yes” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20). “Don’t do this” makes a poor foundation for living.

As I began to dig into scripture, I realized that I had been thinking about my sexuality in the negative, a “don’t do this” mindset that would lead me down a path of “no” for the rest of my life. But God has a very different plan for his children. “For all the promises of God,” the Bible says, “find their ‘yes’ in him” (2 Cor. 1:20).

So what was God’s “yes” for me? I didn’t know, but my Bible was open. I was finally ready to learn.

Coming Out to Myself

None of this happened overnight. Following that summer of nightmares, I entered a season of searching. Denying the truth had gotten me nowhere, and I slowly decided to finally be honest. Towards the end of my searching, I wrote three words in my journal: “I am gay.”

Not especially radical, but the words had a liberating effect. They signified a dramatic shift in my thinking. My whole life I’d thought that “gay” meant “bad,” but after years of living in denial, I was finally willing to acknowledge that God doesn’t make mistakes. I was finally willing to acknowledge that I was “beautifully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I was finally willing to see purpose in my sexuality.

Yes, God had crafted me in a way that contrasted with over 95 percent of the population, but he did it on purpose, and it was good. And through his grace, I would find the good that was in it. Through his grace, I would find the beauty in God’s design.

In my next few posts I plan to unpack this idea that queer sexualities are good. If you’re a member of the LGBT+ community, then I invite you to join me as I explore God’s “yes” to us through Christ. If you’re straight, then I also invite you to join and delve into a topic that too many Christians avoid.

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2 thoughts on “When Words Like “Gay” and “Lesbian” Mean “Bad”

  1. Titi B Reply

    Your candor is so refreshing. We love you.

    1. Traveling Nun Reply

      Love you too. 🙂 <3

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