Throughout the summer, I’ll be posting how I learned to be the most authentic version of me while holding onto my Christian faith. Six posts: how I came out as queer, polyamorous, and kinky.
I started with Part One: Coming Out Queer. I suggest you read that first.
I’ve always struggled with intense loneliness. Neither the company of my family, friends, and lovers, nor the presence of God have ever completely vanquished these feelings. Loneliness is perhaps my manifestation of depression; it is intricately tied to my belief of my self-worth and my lovability. And even when I feel people’s love for me as palpably as heat on my skin, doubt is so engrained in me that it’s nonsensical. When I’m scared that I won’t make it as a writer, or that I’ll never completely stop needing the financial support from my family, fear gives birth to loneliness. It’s a defense mechanism. If I’m lonely, I’ll try to find someone to support me, to have the security of another hand holding mine.
Although recently I’ve found the more I face my fears and accept my own personal limitations, the more loneliness doesn’t control me. Of course I still feel lonely, but I don’t act on it as compulsively as I have in the past.
But that’s getting ahead of the story. Let’s go back to when I was twenty-four and had just moved back to my home state of Indiana from Pennsylvania, where I was studying music. In Indiana, I lived for nine months with my parents in the middle of the country, miles away from any sort of community I could become a part of, and I was incredibly lonely. I’d broken up with my boyfriend shortly before moving away. I knew I didn’t love him and that our relationship couldn’t last long distance.
There were nights after my parents went to sleep that I’d open a browser on my laptop and look at the empty address bar and wonder if there were anything I could type in it that would lead me to some knowledge or group of people who could make me feel less isolated.
This was 2006, and I didn’t know how to find online community. Before, while I was living in Philly, I’d unsuccessfully tried online dating on a site called Christian Café. I was still too liberal for most Christians and too Christian for everyone else. I didn’t even know the right words to describe people like me—I was still figuring out who I was.
In March, I moved to Bloomington where I planned on pursuing a Masters of Vocal Performance at Indiana University. I started studying privately with a vocal coach to prepare for my audition. I shopped around for a church, but nothing felt right. The Evangelical churches were too conservative. If they talked about converting others or seemed anti-gay, I wasn’t interested. And the liberal congregations I found had few people my age. For months, I took solace in scriptures about the Israelites in the desert, trusting that God would lead them out.
During these months of solitude, I continued to question parts of my faith, the same as I’d done in college and in Philly. The questioning was slow, but Bloomington provided new answers.
Things started falling into place when Philip Gully, author of “If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person,” came to speak at an interfaith event. I sat at a table with Jews, Muslims, and other Christians, all interested in how to become a more connected spiritual community. Gully spoke about what binds us together. I bought his book, If God Is Love, which I wrote about earlier. His book valued love above fear, and it got me questioning what ways was I allowing fear to dictate my faith. I realized that I believed in a God that valued both the pursuit of truth and relationships over the fear of sinning. I believed in a God that would guide me to truth; I believed in the power of the Spirit. What this meant was that I didn’t want to be afraid that some act that might be construed as sinning would upset or define my relationship with God.
I felt liberated by this realization. What felt true to me began to take on more authority because I could investigate it by living it. And what I wanted to investigate was new ways to ease my loneliness.
In Philly, I’d let the boyfriend I considered a filler be the first man to touch me. We used our hands and our mouths on each other. He awakened my body in news ways. But after we broke up, I was deeply ashamed of this. Purity culture had dug its claws into me, and I was haunted by years of messages that I was doing a disservice to the man I would marry or the temple of my body.
Something about this shame struck me as wrong. If I didn’t love N, I had cared about him. It had been my first adult relationship and had taught me a lot. Why was learning the ins and outs of love and relationships wrong?
Now, I think it’s important to say that I understand I can feel something is true because I want it to be true. I worry about this all the time. My response is rigorous self-questioning, and study, and asking for second opinions. Ultimately, I believe in asking God and trusting that God will provide an answer or that resting in the mystery is okay.
After a while in Bloomington, I met people my age. The people I met were spiritual but not religious. They were kind and thoughtful. I became close to two single men who both instinctively knew (and I agreed) that we wouldn’t work as a couple. But we also knew we were lonely. So we kissed, cuddled, spent the night, gave each other oral sex. We helped placate the horniness that accompanies loneliness. We agreed that our friendships could include these physical acts as long as we were single. This was my first experience of non-monogamy.
When Christian friends asked how I justified being sexual outside of a committed relationship or marriage, my cut to the chase response was that we are called to love one another, and this is the most loving I could think to be.
My first mistake was when I added a third man to my friends with benefits list who did want to date me and who was hurt that we weren’t exclusive. I learned a lesson that I’ll never perfect to not let desire get in the way of what’s best for others. Being friends with benefits, being non-exclusive, being physical without romantic—which is what I was interested in at that point—wasn’t for everyone. I tried it out on people I shouldn’t have.
When I stopped being afraid of sin, I really began to live. Before, I was like a scientist studying an environment from afar without wanting to interfere with it. I made judgements on parts of life I wasn’t experiencing. This isn’t to say that the first twenty-five years of my life weren’t real, but I sheltered myself. I lived safely. Finally, I stopped looking at the lush wilderness of life from a distance and walked into the brush. I made mistakes and got hurt. I hurt others.
I’m still in the brush. I have scars; I’m less trusting; I have things I regret. But I’ve loved deeply and have advice to share, and I never want to leave.
Continue to the next post in the series