Cheriyln Juris

LGBTQ

As a kid, I wore cargo pants so I was prepared for extended survival in the woods, should the need arise. Extra pockets kept pocketknives, twine, and Legos close at hand; a purse would just get in the way. I built fires and forts that awarded me more bug bites than teeth in my head.

When I couldn’t disappear into the woods, I generally preferred the escape of my own imagination. Not that my pleasant existence in suburbia with two wonderful helicopter parents was anything to withdraw from. I just found the stories I could find in a book more compelling, and without pages to flip through, my own distracted daydreams. I could get lost in the copy on the back of a cereal box.

This probably served me well as a chubby tomboy in a tiny Christian middle school. Either my uniformed peers left me to my own idiosyncratic devices or I failed to hear their whispers; probably both. I did hear the vicious rumor of a “lesbian” classmate from my mom, slander directed at her friend’s daughter by another mean-spirited classmate. I never aspired outside my close circle of friends and was content to keep my daydreams to myself.

At some point these daydreams began to involve other people. I’d imagine what it’d be like to hold her hand or if she wanted to spend time with me as much as I wanted to hang out with her. I knew the answer: probably not.

“…mom? I think. I think I like her more than I’m supposed to.”

“No, you don’t.”

My imagination turned to the soundtrack of dial-up internet, the screeching monster sure to eat into my parent’s dreams and wake them up. I scoured the internet for innocuous displays of affection between two women, often content to read subtitles of foreign films or grimace through clumsy sitcoms. Without realizing my intent, I needed a precedent to know what to expect in my own life. I needed to know there were people like me. It was a void I never realized existed until I was able to find queer heroes of my own, who saw and experienced life the way I did.

In college, I met a boy who should have known better, my getting started leader who was fully aware of the folly of dating incoming freshmen. He was the first boy to show any interest, we both liked photography, and I was optimistic. We dated for a respectable two months until I knew to carry on any longer would be lying. As I mumbled my vague reasons I couldn’t look him in the eye. Understandably upset, his feelings signaled I needed to figure out what I was doing. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Not too long after, I came out to my best friend on a soggy evening sitting on the porch of Printy’s second floor. Hands and voice shaking, heart pounding, which still happens every time I come out to someone important despite being comfortable with who I am. I was met with reserved acknowledgement but more importantly, love. She along with my sister said they would always be there for me, no matter what. My RA was also incredibly kind, though it was evident in all those exchanges my admission made them uncomfortable.

I’ve heard it said queer Christians deserve a degree in queer theology. I certainly earned my diploma my sophomore and junior year, using bible class papers to explore what other people said what the bible had to say about homosexuality. I also sought out what a well-meaning Cedarville counselor had to say. I wore a more feminine outfit, a striped button-down with tasteful ruffles and cute heels to my first appointment in the bottom of the SSC, wondering if anyone I knew would see me and imply why I was going to that office. I didn’t want him making the correct assumptions about me. I usually stared at an encased baseball on his desk wondering if he believed the advice he was giving me. If I was safe and loved, why were my hands shaking?

We met weekly and he recommended the equivalent of an online reparative therapy course that unfortunately did not offer college credit. I gave it my best shot during the semester, returned to my habits of consuming queer blogs and videos over the summer, and made it halfway a second time before determining praying the gay away was an insufficient prescription.

I decided my only option was to be celibate. I found immense support in Julie Rodger’s early blogs, who at the time was a celibate Christian and unbeknownst to me, a speaker for Exodus International, a now defunct ex-gay ministry, thanks in part due to her. She has since come out as affirming and remains firmly on my hero pedestal.

After graduating, I buried myself in work and the church, which for a time were one and the same. I wanted it to be enough. Serving God and the church and enjoying my friends had to be enough. And yet I found myself in the anonymous queer haven of the internet, looking for answers. I received a message from the first openly gay person and first openly gay Christian I had ever met in my life, who remains one of my dearest friends to this day. She was incredibly patient with me and all of my questions and is primarily responsible for me coming to terms with my faith and sexuality.

Over time, I just knew. None of the books I read had the answers. People are happy to give you answers regardless of whether they know what you’re going through or not. Over time the theological arguments from predominantly straight people faded away and my experience of being loved was finally reflected in my perception of God and my faith. If logical arguments actually changed people’s perspectives, the world would be a different place. It’s people and experience that changes you.

I’ve been lucky: everyone with influence in my life who’s heard my story has loved me to the fullest of their ability, whether they’re “accepting” or not. My parents among them, who are learning. My girlfriend came home with me for the first time this past Christmas, when not too long ago they couldn’t bring themselves to say her name.

I’ve since found an affirming church with people of all varieties and am patiently rebuilding my faith to reflect the love and grace I experience on a regular basis. The Christian church as well as Cedarville taught me community is essential, wherever you are able to find it. As Grant said, my inbox is always open if you want to reach out to someone from this group. Please email me at cgjuris118@gmail.com. You are loved, and it does get better.