Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Christian Closet: Yours Truly, Emily Rachelle

Between finals week, moving out of the dorm, and my summer internship, I haven't kept up with the blog. I hope to get a few more posts up this summer.

I've been working on this last Christian Closet post for a month now. It would be wrong of me to continue my blogging on the queer community without stopping to acknowledge the abhorrent event that recently rocked that community.

Since the murder of 50 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, my friends and I have been reminded just how fragile our hard-won freedom is. We're reminded to count every day a blessing and never let go of each other. In a world where men and women even younger than me are shot and hung and beaten for an intrinsic part of their identity, the freedom to be ourselves is rare and worth clinging to. Eventually I hope to say more about Orlando and the victims of this bloody, preventable hate crime, but right now I still need time to process the loss and collect my thoughts.


I've started a lot of series on this blog before. I don't think any of them have ever had as much feedback as this latest series, The Christian Closet.

When I started this series, it was with the simple intent to share people's stories. My audience here is largely made up of conservative Christians, the group supposedly most at odds with the LGBTQ community. My post "A Coming Out" made waves. As a result of that post, I started hosting LGBTQ Christian friends to show how these two "enemy" groups actually overlap.

I hope you've listened to these stories, my lovely readers. I know some of you have commented, and I and my guests appreciate that. It's good to know your story is heard. Now, to wrap up the series, it's my turn. Today, my lovely readers, I'll be telling my own story as a nondenominational bisexual Christian.



Emily Rachelle

Name: Emily Rachelle

Age: 20

Gender: Female

Sexual orientation: Bisexual

Religious denomination: Raised Independent Fundamental Baptist; now identify as nondenominational.

Education/career: Junior in university, studying journalism and media writing.

Favorite food: Depends on when you ask, but usually mac and cheese; sometimes pizza.

Favorite book: Best classic would have to be Jane Eyre. Modern literature is a lot harder to choose from!

Favorite movie: Lately, either of the Dirty Dancing movies. Most Disney movies are a safe bet, too.

Favorite color: Blue? I own a lot of blue things.

Hobbies/sports/interests: As most of you know, I love writing and reading. Sometimes I get crafty.

Dreams/goals in life: My long-term goal is to become a wedding planner.

Myers-Briggs type: ENFJ


When did you first realize you were bisexual?

I knew I was attracted to boys from day one. My first crush was a boy named Brandon in my first grade class, who sat a few desks in front of me; he loved dirtbikes and hated me.

I knew I was attracted to girls in middle school, when I first noticed my best friend's legs in a more-than-best-friends way. My very first reaction to my very first same-sex attraction was "Thank God I'm a Christian, or I'd be a dirty little homosexual lesbian."

I managed to ignore, deny, or repress, to some degree, all my same-sex attraction after that until college. It was only after fourth major crush on a girl that I admitted to myself that something in me was different -- that the day in middle school was not a one-time thing. This was followed by a semester of anguish, intense prayer, and varying levels of self-loathing. I was battling severe depression at the same time, and due to a medication reaction and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I ended up spending the next semester on mental health leave from school.

While I was home, I mostly set my sexuality confusion on the sidelines, except to talk about a couple of sexuality-focused poems in my self-published poetry book. Although I had a long way to go before I reached the position I'm in today, this was when I did finally identify as bisexual.

Are you out? If so, when, how, and/or why did you come out? If not, why are you staying in the closet?

I came out as bisexual to a few select individuals towards the end of my first semester at university and while I was home during the spring semester. My public coming out was couched in a blog series about various struggles I'd lived through that contributed to my poetry. Through the past year and a half, I've become more comfortable in and vocal about my sexuality. I finally decided to do a second, more official public coming out, which resulted in my blog post "A Coming Out." (Clever titling, I know.)

The first time I came out, it was in the interest of being honest and open with the people around me. I wanted readers to understand the background of my poetry, so I spoke about sexuality, mental health, faith, and other challenges my work addressed. My second coming out, this year, was in the same vein -- I wanted to be honest and authentic -- but with a focus on sharing stories and speaking out. I want others with one foot in the LGBTQ community and one in the Christian sphere to know they're not alone. I want people living in one world or the other to understand the perspective of a group they often purposely shun or ignore.

"I want others with one foot in the LGBTQ community and one in the Christian sphere to know they're not alone."

How have Christians hurt you as you struggle with your sexuality?

I don't think you can understand what it's like to have a part of who you are mocked and railed against from before you can ever remember. Unless you've lived through the experiences I have, you can't understand the pain of hearing others belittled by a group that's supposed to embody love, and not even realize yet that the reason you're so uncomfortable with this is not just because it's wrong, but because you are a part of that group. LGBTQ Christians raised in the confined, radically conservative background I come from experience a unique sort of pain when they grow up and discover that their identity aligns better with the people they've been taught to hate than the people who claim to love them.

When I want my conservative Christian peers to understand the way my peers and I have been wronged, I tell a story from my summer camp days. Like many Christian children, I grew up attending a Bible-based summer camp every year, about a week each summer. At each of the three camps I attended, the first day always had a session where a camp leader spoke to the assembled campers about the rules. Each year, without fail, we would be told that "girls should like boys and boys should like girls -- that's good!" One year, the subtle messages didn't stop there. One of the evening sermons spoke about sex and marriage, which I think more middle-school and high-school messages should teach on. But this pastor strayed from his points and his message to give a little rant. He talked about boys who wear eyeliner. He talked about guys who wear skinny jeans. He talked about boys who seem to think they have some sort of strange attraction to other boys. He talked about males who 'didn't deserve the title of man.' And the audience around me laughed.

I don't care what you believe about God's stance on gay marriage. I know His stance on mocking his hurting children is very much against. Yours should be, too.

How have Christians helped or encouraged you as you struggle with your sexuality?

After being raised in such a homophobic world, how did I end up so affirming? It definitely wasn't a result of just my own confused, painful experience, though that was the catalyst.

My first experience with another LGBTQ Christian (or at least, an out LGBTQ Christian) happened at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. I had accepted my own sexuality, but did not believe God allows same-sex relationships. At my university, there's a group for students who wish to discuss gender, sexuality, and related topics in a safe space. I'd heard of this group before, but never been able to attend a meeting. I was finally available the night of their informational meeting my fall sophomore semester, so I went.

I was fascinated with the group, especially the president. He seemed gentle, confident, and authentic. He managed to keep the balance between supporting traditional Christian opinions and welcoming new ideas -- not an easy task in our conservative environment. I related in many ways to his own story, except he was gay while I was bisexual. He talked a lot about his vision and ideas for the group. At the end of the meeting, I stopped to share some ideas for the website and social media; somehow I left the meeting as a new member of the group's cabinet.

I cannot overstate the impact that group and its president had in my life. My sophomore year came with a lot of challenges, from an overloaded schedule to mental health struggles to relationship crises, and the friends who carried me through were almost all involved with that group. But in my personal sexuality and spirituality journey, the president was the most important.

"How could a man so involved in a controversial, activist-driven topic be so gentle and happy and fun and accepting... so plainly human? ...He was so like Jesus that he brought me to a new understanding of what Christianity meant."

The first time I spoke with him one on one, I was equally frustrated and curious about how he could hold views on the Bible and homosexuality so different from mine, and yet not feel the need to "convert" me to his position! I was blown away by how accepting and supportive he could be of people regardless of their specific beliefs. In particular, I was shocked by how a person holding views so clearly against mine could be such a fulfillment of the call to love like Jesus. I approached him with the request to talk more about sexuality and the Bible, and we agreed to have dinner. That dinner lasted three hours, and only about 20% of it was spent talking about anything related to Christianity or sexuality. We were suddenly friends, and our differences didn't seem to matter. How could a man so involved in a controversial, activist-driven topic be so gentle and happy and fun and accepting... so plainly human?

That man is the reason I questioned my own views on sexuality and the Bible. He's the reason I started intensive researching, determined to answer every question I could ask and build a waterproof defense of my own Biblical views. Ultimately, he's the reason I forced myself to face my fears and uncertainties, so he's the reason I am now fully accepting of my own identity, and supportive of others'. He was so like Jesus that he brought me to a new understanding of what Christianity meant. I'll forever be grateful that I met him.


What is one thing you wish straight cisgender Christians understood?

I can agree so strongly with most of the answers this question has found in the series. Personally, I would say this: you don't need to tell us what you think of a same-sex relationship.

Based on statistics and the traditional Christian background, odds are you aren't okay with it. It probably makes you uncomfortable. It might make you squirm. Maybe you even find it disturbing or disgusting. But please, however the relationship makes you feel, don't voice it.

If I am dating a woman and you don't like it, you won't need to tell me. Your voice will tell me when we talk about her. I will know by the questions you ask and the things you don't say. I've been in straight relationships before too; I know how these conversations work. I will know by how you clasp your hands in your lap or shift your legs in your seat. I will know by the raise of your eyebrows or the twitch of your lips. And trust me, I've heard it all before. I know you don't approve. I've accepted that before ever telling you.

If you do approve of a same-sex relationship, that's quite frankly a relief. It's refreshing every time. But still -- you don't need to tell me. There are tells for approval just as there are for discomfort. Body language has been part of communication for millennia. As disheartening as outright disapproval is, voiced approval is equally uncomfortable. I just want to treat my relationships like any other; male or female, my partner is no less valid or important than anyone else's, and no more so.

If I wasn't prepared for your reaction, I wouldn't have told you. Please, please, please: the last thing I want to hear right now is, for the third or fifth or tenth time that week, that you love me, but you're not comfortable with my relationship, and you'll be praying for the best for me.

Whatever your opinion is, keep it to yourself. Trust me, I already know.

"I just want to treat my relationships like any other; male or female, my partner is no less valid or important than anyone else's, and no more so."

What is the one sexuality question you're most tired of hearing?

I might say, "Who's the man in the relationship?" It's definitely the question I'm asked the most. But honestly, that question doesn't bother me. Though you should never ask this, I know most straight people genuinely don't know it's offensive. I answer it by pointing out gender stereotypes and the variety of roles even heterosexual relationships can have, before listing the ways I sometimes fit the expected "woman" and "man" roles and the ways my partner fits in each role. Ultimately, regardless of our genders, we're just two equal human beings in love.

What is your favorite thing about being bisexual?

It brought me into the LGBTQ community. I wouldn't be who I am, believe what I do, or have most of my current friends if I hadn't faced the sexuality struggles I did in the past few years.

How does your family handle your sexuality, if you're out to them?

The first time I came out, my brothers didn't know about it. My parents weren't sure how to respond, and with my serious mental health issues happening at the same time, I think they just skimmed past it to focus on more immediate problems requiring attention. My grandma took me aside at my brother's soccer game to express her support of me regardless of my life decisions, which was equal parts sweet and unexpectedly awkward.

The second time I came out was much more "loud and proud" and public, so it involved more complicated family politics. I've received a lot of support, a lot of ignoring, and a lot of mixed feelings and opinions from various family sources. Nobody's called me an abomination or disowned me, and I can count on at least one set of grandparents supporting my hypothetical future wedding, so right now I'd say I'm in a decent place.



A note to my readers: 

The intent of this series was never to teach a certain theology or change anyone's mind on what they believe; it was just to tell stories and let people in different social circles get to really know and understand each other. I said in my introduction that "What we want to do in sharing this series is help straight cisgender Christians understand us as people." I said I don't agree with everything my friends believe, and I don't. I asked you to listen like Jesus would, and you have.

Thank you. For reading, for commenting, for really listening. Some of you are new here, and some have been around a while; some of you support my friends and I in our choices and relationships, while some of you disagree with our beliefs. But you've all been nothing but kind and open through this series, so thank you.

To my Christian Closet guests:

Thank you all for being open and vulnerable. The questions I've asked aren't easy to answer, and a lot of you have shared things for the first time here on my blog. I hope you benefited as much from speaking as I and my readers did from hearing your stories. This series has been wildly successful, and I owe a lot of that success to you guys. I've gotten to know you all much better in the past few months. You're all beautiful people.

2 comments:

  1. Jane Eyre is so chill though. I seriously need to reread that one. And when it comes to your story? I don't even have the words. I'm first of all just really glad that you met the right people on your path of self-discovery, and secondly, glad that you're so willing to share your story and experiences and host other stories and experiences to help us understand. You've been so thorough and stuff... I feel like I don't have any questions or anything. XD Just, thanks for your story, and if you ever decide to do another round of these or anything, totally let me know, because I love these things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Netflix took down the Jane Eyre miniseries D: Thank you for reading, Heather! I know you've been following this series and we all appreciate it <3

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