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 met David shortly before my 27th birthday. He moved in with me about a year later, and we lived together for the next four years. For much of this time, we were non-monogamous. I dated other men, women, and couples. Some of these individuals became simply friends or occasional lovers; some are still partners that I’m committed to. And, the way things go with dating, some dislike me now or I dislike them.
David introduced me to kink through the book “Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism.” All I remember is that it depicted BDSM as something way less weird and scary than I thought it would be, but I quickly replaced any thoughts and images from the book with things that we tried.
We were primaries—no matter who else had romantic or sexual roles in our lives, our relationship carried a trump card. We talked about getting married and asked each other’s opinion before making big decisions; we planned our lives together. The five years that we were primaries was an important season of my life in which I learned what being queer, kinky, and poly meant to me. None of these identities existed fully separate from our relationship.
A couple of years into our relationship, a couple I was dating met people who were a part of the kink community in town. We discovered workshops and parties—people interested in what we were interested in. BDSM became less about the bedroom and more about the people I met because of it. (For more about this read my post about how the kink community and the ideal Christian community have overlapping values.)
I have to admit that God was not always a priority during this time frame. David wasn’t religious and neither were most of the people I became close to. Any church community I tried didn’t feel as supportive or nurturing as the one I built outside of it. Evangelical churches didn’t understand or respect my queerness. Even at welcoming and inclusive churches, I couldn’t explain how sexual exploration was integrating itself so strongly into my identity.
In these more liberal congregations in Bloomington, Indiana, there were few people my age and fewer still who weren’t taking the marriage and babies route. I was dating a father of an eleven-year-old who wasn’t sure about marriage and didn’t want more kids. Who would understand why, instead of kids, we were adding new lovers into our family?
In non-Christian communities I found others embracing their full sexual identity in order to explore the wild terrain of love. We spoke in vague terms about sacred sexuality, so even my spiritual side had at least a partial home. But I longed for people who could put all the pieces together with me: my Christian faith, my queerness, my desire for intense life-altering love.
A term I made up, Church of the Scarlet Letter, kept floating through my head. The scarlet letter from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel meant being branded by something other’s saw as a sexual sin. And a church built around this branding was a way of redeeming it. This was my deep desire to commune with Christians like me—with a scarlet stain, Christians like me who saw the world through a scarlet lens.
And I did meet other believers whose life and faith were shaped by queerness, by children outside of wedlock, by some deep sexual desire that was unlike what their Christian upbringing could make sense of. I thought of these women as part of my church: my ad-hoc, fragmented, scarlet church. But they tended to not be my closest friends.
I often wonder why sexuality is so important to me. There are so many other meaningful aspects of life. Why the scarlet lens? Some people will read scripture and all of the verses about trees and mountains will stand out to them most. For others, anything about motherhood will scream the loudest.
Long before I was sexually active, I was drawn to the stories of outcasted women—the woman at the well, the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume, the woman for whom Jesus drew a line in the sand.
Part of this was because I was a lonely kid. I had a weird mind and often felt misunderstood. I had problems dating, and I struggled with my weight. I felt outcasted from romantic love, so unsure of whether it would have a place in my life. I’ve also always been both romantic and passionate, drawn to daydreaming and crushes, the blues and torch singers, fantasies of grandiose life and the beauty of the mundane. All of this makes up my personal scarlet lens. I was troubled as a teen by finding the term passion among lists of sins in the New Testament, but that’s another post for another time.
I have to believe that God gave me my scarlet lens: a focus on relationships, on how we are drawn to each other and need each other, sometimes use each other and sometimes lead each other closer to God.
I struggled with David’s lack of faith, because there were parts of me he didn’t understand. Early in our relationship, a passage from 2nd Peter comforted me:
[Jesus’s] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection (or brotherly kindness in other translations), and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2nd Peter 1:3-8
I saw this progression as spiritual maturity. You start with faith and build upon it. And the more you build, the closer to God (godliness) you become. Godliness breeds mutual affection, which I believe can mean community. And, of course, the ultimate goal is love.
I looked at David’s life and I saw goodness, the desire to serve and love others—I saw the quest for love, and that quest made me feel okay about dating a non-Christian. I saw that in everyone that I became close to since I was drawn to people who practiced compassion. The Christian faith of my childhood instilled in me these virtues: serving and respecting others, seeking out ways to love. But others in my life held these same virtues they drew from other sources.
Continue to the next post in the series