I was not familiar with the Christian Reformed Church until middle school when I moved to Gallup, New Mexico. Before that, our family had been with a non-denominational mission organization in Ethiopia and other countries in Africa, and I had attended non-denominational churches. When we landed in Gallup, I started attending Middle School at Rehoboth Christian school, so that was my introduction to the CRC.
My parents continued to attend a Baptist church in town, but my sister and I soon chose to attend Rehoboth CRC instead. It seemed more liberal and community-focused than some of the other local denominations, and the sermons and music were more interesting and appealing to me. Of course, it also helped that my friends went there, too. After high school, I ended up at Calvin, so I did become quite involved in the CRC, despite not being from a CRC family.
I had a good group of supportive friends throughout high school, and we had fun together, but I don’t know what the response from my friends would have been if I had realized that I was attracted to women when I was a teenager. In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that I have been a lesbian my whole life — I definitely recall my friends all having crushes in elementary school and middle school and I was just not interested in guys. I would kind of look at the guys in my class and decide which one I was going to have a crush on so that I could fit in. I generally just convinced myself that I just wasn’t into guys, and that was okay. In high school, I decided I needed to be dating, so I kind of found somebody and decided that we were going to be dating, and it turns out that most high school guys are kind of amenable to that. As soon as he kissed me, I thought it was absolutely horrendous and wanted nothing to do with him, but I still just thought it was him specifically that was the problem, not men in general. I think that your mind is great at convincing yourself what you want to rationalize, and that’s probably what I was doing.
When I was 25, after I had graduated from Calvin with a nursing degree and spent some time working back in Gallup, I spent a year in Ethiopia working at a hospital there, which was a really formative experience. I met interesting people, and really started exploring a lot of religious and spiritual questions. I was still trying to date men, and while I made good friends and had great conversations with them, dating just did not work out well for me.
When I moved back to the US, I had a lot of free time on my hands because it took a while for all the paperwork to go through for me to start working again. It was at this point that I finally allowed myself to wonder about my sexuality. Through talking with a supportive friend, I kind of had an epiphany and finally came to the point where I could accept that I was attracted to women, and that maybe that was okay. I realized that the choice I faced was to either acknowledge it and move on, or to keep denying a huge part of myself. I really believe that I was simply in a place in my life where I could finally accept this reality.
Throughout this time back in Gallup, I was back to attending my CRC church because that’s just what I did when I was in town. I went regularly, and even attended a small group, but there were definitely big religious questions happening for me in the back of my mind. It felt to me like church was not really a place where I could explore who I was. I don’t know how explicit or implicit it was, but it was definitely there. I ended up wanting to move somewhere where I could go back to school if I chose to do that, and I ultimately ended up in Albuquerque.
Once I moved to Albuquerque, I left behind the social obligation and habit of attending church every week. It was then that I started dating women, and it was such a huge difference from my previous dating experiences. It was quite an amazing time of self-discovery, and a very eye-opening thing for me. Up until this point, I still hadn’t come out to any of my family members because I figured that if I had never dated a woman, I couldn’t really say I was a lesbian. When I started seeing someone regularly, I decided I would tell the rest of my family.
My parents had split up when I was in high school, and I knew they would respond differently to this news. I told my mom, and I was kind of expecting that she would be fine with it, but it turned out to be rather hard for her. She pretended that she was fine with it, but it was definitely challenging. It took her time, I think, to accept that I wasn’t going to marry the boy next door and have five kids and let her raise them. My dad’s response was basically what I had expected: a long email about religion, saying things about how I’d chosen to stray from the Lord and that he hoped I’d choose to “forsake this life of sin.”
When it comes to churches, what I wish they would hear is that it always seemed to be the case to me that if your sexuality was different, it was met with a “let’s just not talk about it” kind of attitude, and that definitely sends a message to people. I pretty firmly believe that your sexuality is something that you’re born with, and you can try however hard you want to fit in or to deny it, but ultimately, you’re just denying a part of yourself, and you can’t live fully when you’re in denial. So, if the church is welcoming, and acknowledges the fact that people have differences and that those differences are okay, I believe that’s powerful.
One thing I’ve found too that is very helpful, in churches and other places, is if I see more diversity represented, and I can tell there’s LGBTQ people and couples and families, then I do find it a lot more comfortable because I can believe that it’s accepted.
These days, I think that meaningful human connection is probably one of the biggest ways I experience joy. I also find enjoyment in little things like the cat crawling up on my lap, or going out in the mountains, or taking a walk in the snow.