*Laura is a pseudonym. Laura is proud of who she is, but she does not want to be disrespectful to those people in her story who could be seen in a negative light.
I grew up attending a Christian Reformed Church in British Columbia, and I went to Christian schools throughout my elementary and high school years. In my family, we were discouraged from interacting with non-Christians — we were taught that we live in the world but that we were not to live of this world. For me, this created fear and an inability to connect with others outside of my faith-based community. I lived in a social bubble, which felt safe. Because I grew up with the same people in all spheres of my world, it was particularly difficult to connect with my peers when I switched schools in Grade 9. Rather than at school, I found belonging within my church. It was my home.
During this time, I participated in leading worship, I organized youth events, and I attended retreats. I also worked as a Sunday school teacher and youth leader, and at times worked to maintain the building itself. My work with the church was really important to me and gave me a sense of purpose and identity. My faith was strong and was my foundation for living. Due to traumatic childhood experiences and mental illness, there was a time that I wanted to take my own life. I was plagued by the feeling that I did not belong in this world and that heaven was my true home. I yearned for God. I wanted to feel safe in His arms. Thankfully, a man was brought into my life who helped me with these feelings — the youth pastor at our church at that time. He became my closest friend. He taught me to rely on God for my strength, and reminded me that God would not give me more than I could handle. The deepening of my faith and the support that I received from my youth pastor acted as a tether that helped me continue on living in this world. Without my faith and the church, I am not confident that I would still be alive today.
I wasn’t always conscious of my sexuality, but looking back from an adult’s perspective, I can see the signs. I understand now why I was so drawn to certain women, and why I felt resistance from them. Although it wasn’t sexual at that point, the sense that I was somehow too involved left me with a feeling of “otherness.” Now, I realize these were crushes.
What I was conscious of was that same-sex relationships were wrong, and not how God had created us. I remember clearly hearing my mom exclaim that gay couples were “disgusting” after seeing them on TV. Coupled with the messages that being gay was akin to murder, I clearly understood that I would be sent to hell if I acted on any urges. My youth pastor was the one person that I told early on. I explained that I thought I was gay and that I didn’t know how to reconcile that with God. He was emotionally supportive and told me it wasn’t wrong to have those thoughts. Rather, it was acting on them that would put me in opposition to God. It was obvious to me that he believed being both gay and faithful to God was impossible. I would have to make a choice, and it should be the “right” one.
When I was 20 I met a woman at work who made my stomach flutter. We were drawn to each other in a way that I had not experienced before. As our relationship grew, it became clear we wanted to be together as a couple. But this created an inner paroxysm for me — how was I to live a life in line with my God who I held so dear, and be true to my own individual identity?
This was not made any easier by my parents. They began to pick up on the romance between my girlfriend and I and made their disapproval apparent. They told me that if I decided to continue dating her, that I would not be allowed to live in their house. But by that time I had realized that my attraction towards other women was a part of who I am; it wasn’t a choice. If I was to have any integrity, I could not deny that part of myself. So, I was left with little choice and had to leave.
I felt so much shame. When I spoke with my youth pastor about it, we decided that it would be best if I took some time away from church ministry while I figured things out. While I didn’t feel kicked out, I was very clear on the fact that there was not a path for me to continue leading worship and working with youth while also dating a woman.
My mom was so concerned for me that she brought the subject up with her church small group. However, as soon as she spoke the words, the fact that I was dating a woman spread like wildfire through the entire church family. My mom had outed me. She had already made me feel so much shame, and then all of a sudden, I was shamed by everyone. Hearing that my grandfather cried when he found out, and that people believed my attraction towards women was an effect of the trauma I experienced as a child was painful and invalidating. In the eyes of others, I was in the wrong for choosing this life, and if I didn’t choose a heterosexual life then my soul was in peril. Although it wasn’t an overt shunning, I felt the judgement surrounding me and no longer felt safe within my church family. I couldn’t stay with the rumours and shaming comments. After I left, I didn’t hear from a soul. The community that I had grown up with from birth just dropped me, and I was lost.
I went travelling through Europe for a few months soon after. During that time I wrestled. You would expect that travelling out on my own exploring new places and cultures would be exciting, but for me it was pervaded by sadness. However, there was an instant I remember clearly that brought me some peace. I was sitting on a riverbank in Germany and I was reminded of how Jesus would hang out with the rejects of society, and that God WAS love. I thought, well, if God is love, then He could not hate me. And, if Jesus spent his time with the outcasts then He certainly would spend time with me. At that moment, my perspective changed. I realized that I didn’t have to subscribe to limitations placed on me by my home community and faith tradition.
When I returned home from Europe, I moved back into my parent’s home. I was hoping that with time I would have been welcomed back. This wasn’t the case, however. I was reminded that if I was going to be with a woman then I was no longer welcome to live in their home. So, when my girlfriend moved, I moved with her.
I didn’t hear from any of my church friends or extended family after that and I only spoke with my parents occasionally. When we did talk, it was very difficult. My mom and dad were attending Christian conferences that were supposed to help them figure out how to change me, and they were given hope that this was only a phase and I would end up straight. The conversations we did have had an undercurrent of rejection — it felt as though they were consistently choosing their church and their relationship with God over their own daughter. It was profoundly painful. It didn’t matter who I was, and it didn’t matter what I said, I would always, always come second.
As time passed, my girlfriend and I were able to go to my parent’s house occasionally. They realized they would have to make some accommodations or they would lose their daughter completely. However, when we did make it to their home, we were expected to act like friends. My brothers were allowed to be with their girlfriends at my parents’ house comfortably and affectionately, but I wasn’t allowed to be with mine. Although my girlfriend and I were together for nine years, my family never came to a place of comfort and acceptance.
Several years ago, I became very unwell, and it was clear that I could not live on my own during that time. Because I was no longer seeing anyone, I was welcomed to live and recover in my parent’s home. It was extremely difficult for me to be there, but due to my illness I didn’t have another option. Now that I look back on this period, I can see there was a reason for me to be living with my parents — our relationships have healed in a lot of ways. I think we began to appreciate one another for who we are and, although not on the same page, we look past our differences and are able to appreciate the love that we have for each other.
While I was living at home, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. During the months between his diagnosis and his passing, I had the privilege of taking care of him. I watched him struggle with his diagnosis and physical decline, but I also witnessed the strength of his faith. Words cannot express how incredibly thankful I am that we had the opportunity to heal and get to know each other again before he died. He became my favourite person and I now think of him with fondness every single day.
It’s really only been since my dad died that I have had a relationship with any of my extended family. My dad’s mom and I have become particularly close. However, there are times when I am brought back into the place of shame. Although not directed specifically at me, she makes comments about how same-sex relationships are not of God and that she has no understanding of how anyone could follow that path. Even though she knows that her words hurt me, she feels justified in speaking her opinions because her faith in Jesus is foundational. Because of my history with the church, and the lack of flexibility when it comes to opinions about sexuality, I don’t speak about my experiences. It’s not that I feel ashamed about who I am, it’s just that I am afraid of the judgement, rejection, and backlash, and I simply don’t want to feel that pain again. But, in some ways this means that I am denying myself all the time.
When it comes to my personal faith, I find it very painful to speak of. When I was young, the church was my home, my support, my lifeline. However, the experiences of shame, rejection, and judgement killed my trust in the church and my faith in Jesus along with it. Singing, which was a huge part of my life and brought me comfort, died too. To be honest, at this point I don’t feel safe enough to seek out other Christian faith communities. I cannot go back to Christianity because I no longer see the world through that lens. When I was in Europe, God’s message of love to me was outside the confines of religion. I was not loved because I was Christian, white, lesbian, or straight. I was loved simply for who I am and because that is what God is. Something my dad said to me in a letter he left was, “Laura, your faith still exists.” When I first read that statement, I didn’t quite believe him, but as I reflect on it now, I realize that he was right. My faith does still exist; it’s just different now. And that’s okay.