In the spring of 2002, I graduated from Cedarville with a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology. However, my education started at Bob Jones University, which is a staunchly conservative, fundamentalist Christian school in South Carolina. As a forewarning, my coming out experience was pretty traumatic, but I tell it at a point in my life where I feel completely well adjusted and where life couldn't be more beautiful. My fiancé and I live in South Philadelphia with our family: Bijou a 7 year-old German Sheppard/Lab mix dog and Charlie and Johnny Spoon our 10 year-old cats. Recently, Robin and I got engaged and are planning a New Jersey wedding to be held in the next year and a half. I am an attorney barred in New Jersey and Pennsylvania practicing GLBTI estate and family planning. Robin is the executive director of a youth health empowerment program in Philadelphia.
Here is my coming out story:
Before starting college, I just felt like I was different from all my girl friends. I wasn't interested in the boys and I guess I just assumed I was a late bloomer. When I arrived at Bob Jones, I spent every waking moment with this girl I met on the first day of classes. Typical of many coming out stories, she was my best friend. Instantly, I became infatuated with her, still not knowing that it was a crush. I fell hard. During the falling-in-love process, I had severe anxiety attacks. I wasn't sleeping. I felt like I was losing my mind. And I still had no idea that I was gay. One day in my freshman year my best friend kissed me and everything finally made sense to me. The anxiety got worse as we quasi-dated. The preachers at the school delivered "hell, fire, and brimstone" messages everyday and I constantly felt this dread that I was going to hell.
My second year of college was awful. I was a mental health mess. Just before exams first semester, one of my roommates turned me in for being sexually active with my best friend. I think we were pretty obvious. I begged the school to keep me and to counsel me regarding my feelings toward my best friend. Even with this, I still didn't realize I was gay. I just thought it was her. Sadly, there was no grace or compassion from Bob Jones. In fact, they expelled me. They forced me to call my parents and tell them that I was gay (even though I didn't think I was). My best friend and I were not permitted to say "goodbye." It was almost two years before I spoke to her again.
The Dean of Students at Bob Jones told my parents that they were banning me from coming back to school for 3 years and that they were calling all the Bible schools with which they affiliated and asked them to honor their discipline. To please my parents, I applied to a few Bible schools but was rejected because of Bob Jones request. My parents then put me into a form of reparative therapy/biblical counseling for 9 months prior to my acceptance at Cedarville. Every single night during those 9 months, I would BEG God to take me in my sleep. I didn't want to wake up. The emotional pain was so intense that I actually felt physical pain at all times. My chest felt like it was caving in. I truly didn't think I would live long. I felt sure that I would have a heart attack.
Cedarville was the only school that accepted me. I remember walking in my first day and going straight to the admissions office. I sat and cried as I thanked the admissions counselor. His response was that Cedarville believed in grace. My two years there showed me something that my legalistic upbringing could never have showed me about God. I am still thankful for my time at Cedarville. I continued in reparative therapy there. But instead of trying to make me "straight," they focused on my mental health problems that had gone untreated and on sexual purity. I truly appreciated that focus as opposed to the legalistic counseling back home because it helped me see myself as human and not some freakish reject. My counselor encouraged me to get closure with my best friend from Bob Jones. That advice was incredible for me. I found out that she was pretty ruined from what happened. Her family kicked her out. To this day she hasn't finished college and all her childhood dreams have fallen to the way side. When I think of her, I still feel sad that she never recovered from that experience.
Despite how great Cedarville was for me, I still couldn't successfully date men and I developed a bitterness toward God that bordered on hatred. I almost married an amazing man I met while at school. But I just felt so dirty when he would so much as cuddle with me. It felt so unnatural. After graduation, I broke off that relationship and finally accepted myself for the lesbian that I am. All anxiety and sleeping disorders disappeared within weeks of giving up on being "straight and normal." I started making true and lasting friendships. I entered a family and community of gays and lesbians that just felt like home. All hatred and bitterness left me. I was never able to reconcile my faith with my orientation and that's always concerned me. But now I look back on the time of emotional and mental anguish and I have no idea who that girl was. I cannot imagine what that pain felt like anymore. Life is so beautiful and my life in particular is SO AMAZING.
I am very thankful for a website such as this one that encourages the integration of spirituality and orientation. I know God made me this way. I know I'm not sick or a freak. But finding spirituality in it all is so difficult when the church shuns our community as though we are lepers. Their hateful attacks on us, whether in our faces such as "Repent America" led by Michael Marcavage, or by trying to regulate our way of life through hateful legislation, Christianity has turned our community away even though some crave spirituality just as any other human being. I hope in the near future to reconcile my orientation with some level of spirituality because there is a void in my life. However, I refuse to turn my back on who I am. I will never go back to that bitterness, hatred, and mental instability. I am searching to resolve my spirituality in a personal way. At least I will know for myself that I am right with God.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone grappling with these awful feelings would be to be authentic as to who you are. At the very least be authentic with yourself. Coming out to yourself as a Christian is probably the hardest part, but it's an act of personal strength and integrity that is unparalleled. After that, being authentic with others about who you are is so freeing, like shackles are being lifted. Everything will fall into place and you will be empowered. Nothing is worth feeling enslaved to your own private world. Not your family, not your church, not your friends. God loves us even though people will turn their backs on us. Always know that the church in its collective form is not God, but rather flawed people looking for hope just as you and I are looking for hope. Make your spirituality personal, because God does not want you to feel shunned from Him. For my family of GLBTI friends out there, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm excited to make friends with others who are seeking spiritual integration with their orientation.