My name is Steph. I was raised in the CRC. I am queer, non-binary and I believe in God. These are just parts of what make me wholly and authentically who I am. This is my story.
I was a couple months old when my parents adorned me in a perfect white dress, stood up in front of our congregation, family, and friends and had me baptized. That Sunday my parents, friends, and family promised to love, support, and encourage me in my life and in my faith. The congregation, with one voice, promised to do the same. I did not know at that time what all of this meant, but as I grew up in the Christian Reformed community, I came to learn and love what those promises and what my faith meant for my life.
For 18 years I was a dedicated and God-loving Christian. I grew up learning children’s stories in Sunday school, earning badges in Calvinettes, earning trust and learning responsibility by babysitting kids in the church nursery, and at 17 years old, I stood up in front of the same church and congregation that baptized me and did my profession of faith.
During these same 18 years, I came to realize that I was different. By my mid-teens, I quietly realized that I was having feelings for girls. My first girl crush was a close friend of my brother. She was amazing and all I wanted to do was be around her and get to know her on a deeper level. These feelings went far beyond physical attraction. They were electric. It was the first time I finally felt what all my female friends said they felt about guys. Feelings that, up until this time, I had never related to. I had tried so hard to make myself like guys and be “normal” to no avail. My feelings for this girl were like a switch in my brain and body flipping on. These were the feelings I had hoped for years I would feel for guys, but never did. As amazing as this revelation felt, with it came a gut-wrenching dread and anxiety. I was a Christian; how could I be gay? My life wasn’t supposed to go like this. I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality, it was a sin and that God punished those who engaged in homosexuality by banishing them to hell. I spent more nights than I can count praying that these feelings would go away, even though I had never felt more complete. I prayed God would make me “normal” and make me like guys. No matter what I did, no matter how hard or long I prayed, my feelings didn’t change. This wasn’t a phase; this was who I am, and I knew I had a choice to make. I could hide who I was to be a “good” Christian, or embrace and love this part of myself and live my life the way God had made me. To say that I was terrified was an understatement. I spent more than a year hiding these feelings from my family. I knew that my parents loved me, but I also knew that they were church-going, God-fearing people, and that me being gay did not fit into that. Within me laid a strong fear that if people in the church found out that they had a gay child, my parents would be judged — possibly ostracized — and would lose the respect they had as serving members of our church. I was terrified that something I could not change would cause my family to lose one of the few constants we had in our lives. Despite the fear, I kept going to church while, outside the church, I was secretly living a life that felt more honest and real to who I was. Eventually I came out to my parents, and even though it was hard for them, they never, ever stopped loving me. I slowly came out to friends at school and, just like my family, no one left me or made me feel the shame I felt every time I stepped into church. After almost two years of living with shame, guilt, and fear every time I went to church, I decided that I could no longer live a double life, filled with such drastically different feelings. I knew that suppressing my truth and my identity would be harmful to my health.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my relationship with the church was coming to an end. One Sunday morning, while sitting in church and listening to a sermon with my family, the pastor began preaching about homosexuality and the scriptures about homosexuality in the Bible. This was the second or third time in a short while that I had sat through a sermon about homosexuality. I felt so isolated and alone listening to those sermons. I knew on that Sunday that I couldn’t take anymore. I knew in my heart that I had to choose to be me, all of me, without fear, without shame, and without guilt. So during that pastor’s sermon, I got up and walked out. I left feeling sad, angry, and hurt. The same people and community that had promised to love and support me were causing the most hurt and harm. At the same time, I felt more free and powerful than I had ever felt. I trusted that I was making the right choice for me and for my family.
After leaving the church, I sought out a community like myself. In this community I found love, support, compassion, and an overwhelming sense of pride. Regardless of who I was or where I came from, my mere existence was one to be celebrated.
Over the last 20 years I have struggled to maintain a strong relationship with God. I knew God from the perspective of the Church, but I also knew God as the creator who made me in their image. I have attended churches over the years but none that felt like home, where I could be authentically open and feel like I was in a safe space. Despite the struggles in my relationship with God, I can feel God in my life, still watching over me and guiding me. I feel a pull back to God and to the church, even though it has been a source of shame and anger. Recently I came out as queer and non-binary. These personal revelations have brought me an ever deeper sense of understanding of self and I trust that that is also God working in my life. Throughout my entire faith journey there has been a passage that has been a sense of comfort, inspiration, calm, and guidance. It is Jeremiah 29-11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I hold on to this passage and trust that God has a life of love, pride, and faith set out for me.