When I was in my graduate program, I took an online clinical course for LGBT+ clients. I remember sitting at my dining room table, my laptop and textbook open in front. We were covering the section on sexual identity development. In my textbook, Counseling LGBTQ Americans, by Frank (2012), there was a different timeline for each of the letters in the acronym, as well as for heterosexuality.
I thought nothing of it as I read and took notes until I got to the bisexuality timelines, one of which particularly resonated with me. My face got progressively closer to the textbook as I read about The Layer Cake Model of Bisexual Identity Development: (1) “Development of a heterosexual identity,” (2) “Experience with homosexual feelings, thoughts, and/or behaviors,” (3) “Acceptance of same-sex attractions but maintenance of a heterosexual identity,” (4) “Integration of heterosexual and homosexual identities,” and (5) “Identification as bisexual” (Frank, 2012, pp. 44-45).
Oh…my…goodness. That was…me!
Flashes of memories throughout my life suddenly came to me. The first time I was sexually attracted to a girl in middle school. How, in high school, I liked accidentally kissing a girl friend of mine on the lips when we meant to kiss on the cheek. All the crushes I had on female celebrities like Emma Stone and Zoey Deschanel. The intensely passionate same sex dreams I had in my undergrad.
I felt silly. How could I have thought these were typical heterosexual experiences? For some reason, I came up with excuses to write each of these off as “normal” for heterosexual people. Surely every middle schooler experiences sexual attraction, right? Surely I just liked kissing my girl friend because she was one of my best friends. Surely I had these crushes on celebrities because I wanted to look like them. Surely these passionate dreams were because I couldn’t control the randomness of my subconscious.
I remembered reading once that how you react in your sex dreams is an indicator of how comfortable you are with your sexuality. If you’re heterosexual and have a same sex dream, but react completely okay with it, you’re secure in your heterosexuality. If you freak out about it, then you aren’t.
It was on the basis of this observation from the internet that I defended my dreams when my stepdad brought up the subject. He had a coworker who opened up to him, extremely concerned about his same sex dreams. My stepdad thought it was weird, but I tried to back up his friend by using myself as an example. “I’m straight and I have same sex dreams. So what?”
There is very much a “what.”
In my adolescence, I knew very little about human sexuality. I was typically boy crazy, dating all throughout my middle and high school years. However, occasionally, the subject of the LGBT+ community would come up, both in school and at church. During my junior or senior year in high school, I remember a friend of mine described herself as bi-curious. She knew she was attracted to girls, but since she never tried it, she felt she couldn’t label herself as anything other than straight. I considered the label and put it on like a jacket to see if it fit. At the time, it did.
Then, as I had my first serious boyfriend, and the next, and the next, I forgot I was wearing the jacket at all.
During all this time, I also considered myself neutral when it came to the issue of the LGBT+ community and the church. When I started college, I finally began to tiptoe my way towards one side and away from the median. I wrote a post about it on my old blog, So What? I'm a Christian Teen, because I was upset that this issue was tearing churches apart.
My basic argument was that there was no reason why there couldn’t be LGBT+ people in the church. If it wasn’t a sin, great! If it was a sin, who cares? The point of the church was to welcome everyone. That was Jesus’ lesson about loving our neighbors. There was no caveat between the words “our” and “neighbors.”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and prophets depend on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (WEB)
I began spending a lot of time researching this intersectionality between faith and sexuality. I found several helpful online resources, such as the Q Christian Fellowship (then called the Gay Christian Network) and Queer Grace, to name a few. I started to form an opinion that was more dead set, even though I hadn’t accepted my own sexuality yet. With the combination of misinterpreted verses, mistranslated words from Greek, cultural context, biased authors with agendas, the loving message of the Gospel, and the teachings of God creating us from birth, I couldn’t understand how being LGBT+ was a sin.
So, I stopped believing it was.
I’m not going to argue verse by verse or topic by topic why. If you’d like to read more, I suggest reading Rev. Justin Cannon’s thoughtful scripture study here. However, I will explain how I integrated my faith and sexuality.
After coming to terms with the "bisexual" label during my graduate program, I had to start saying it out loud to have it feel real. One of the most important people I came out to was my mom, who also just happens to be a pastor.
When I first told her, it almost seemed like everything made sense. She said things like, “Oh! So that’s why you’re always making such a big deal about the LGBT community.” Later, though, she became upset because she couldn’t understand how I knew I was bisexual when I hadn’t dated or been with a woman. Still, each example she gave to prove I was straight – “You’ve always liked guys” or “You can’t just all of a sudden change who you like” or “Being bi means you can be sexually intimate with a woman” – I was able to rebuttal with answers like “I have always liked guys, but I also have liked girls” or “I’ve always been like this. I just haven’t told you” or “Yes, that’s right and I could definitely do that.”
Her biggest concern was that I would lose my salvation. This one took me somewhat by surprise. I had expected some pushback, but I always thought my mom was more accepting. She’s probably considered as the most radical of her age group in our family. When my aunt would ask questions about the Bible or my grandpa would speak offensively or when my cousin came out as gay, she was the first one to stop everyone in their tracks. While I was so angry that I couldn’t articulate myself in Spanish and tears were in my eyes, she would come to the rescue with responses like “Jesus commands that we love no matter what” or “Only God can judge so stop it” or “He’s family so we have to accept him and we can’t treat him any differently.” She was even on the forefront of running a vigil at the church we attended when the Pulse shooting happened as well.
Yet, for some reason, it hit too close to home when I included myself in this picture.
This all led to an agreement: I wouldn’t bring up the fact that I was bi if she wouldn’t tell me what my sexual orientation was. It worked for a while, and I suppose still is, but it leaves me feeling spiritually unfulfilled. Sure, I can find LGBT+ support with my friends, but what do I do when I go to a church pastored by my mom?
It has led to a certain distance between myself and the congregation. I do the bare minimum to support her and help run the ministry, but I fear I can't get too close for my own mental health. When the leadership team was working on the bylaws, I put in my input about including “sexual orientation” to the nondiscriminatory clause. I tried not to cry when I saw the term wasn’t included in the draft sent for approval to the leadership board.
Granted, the nondiscriminatory clause didn’t include any oppressed group. All it said was a generic “we accept all” sort of message using biblical verses as support. It could be worse, I suppose. My mom apologized for hurting me and explained that even though the church is welcoming, that we have to be careful with the terminology we use and that change happens slowly in order to not lose the congregation. We can’t preach to a church without members, right? She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (even though that’s impossible as she already hurt mine, I pointed out). She also explained how the church would go case by case when new members of the congregation came if they were LGBT.
I understand that, but here’s the thing. To me, Jesus didn’t work on a case by case basis. He specifically pinpointed oppressed groups of people and directly reached out to them. My mom said that was why he was killed, but isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we be willing to put our own comfort on the line to show God’s love prominently to the oppressed, even if that means being socially crucified, so to speak?
Nowadays, I find my spiritual fulfillment in reading. Rescuing Jesus and Blessed Bi Faith are two examples (the latter of which being where I learned that, after all, isn’t it a blessing that I have the power to love beyond gender boundaries?) Social advocacy is another way I grow spiritually, such as through pride parades and local public policy. For example, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith is an inspiration to me as the first openly gay Latino in the Florida House of Representatives and I’m happy to also call him a friend of mine. I also still openly speak about my faith, whether it’s with a guy or girl I like or date. This is how I feel and show God’s love regardless of sexuality.
My mom does have one point, though. While she desperately wants to study Greek so she can do her doctoral degree in Biblical Studies and address this issue head on, there’s work to be done in the meantime. She said she wants to know what she’s talking about when she quotes the Bible and I guess that’s all I can ask of her. It seems like she wants to be LGBT+ supportive and openly so. She even said she understood if the denomination didn’t want her or her ministry. She even added that our last regional pastor had reassured her that whoever stayed in the congregation were the ones who truly believed in the same evangelical message as her.
Yet, this all means she’s not in the place to take an official stand on this issue yet. This also means if I’m the one who wants to bring change, excluding myself from the church and not being involved in the leadership isn’t going to bring any change at all. It reminded me of the saying that the only way to fail is to not try. She’s right, but I still struggle with the middle ground. She doesn’t have a problem with me speaking my mind, but she wants me to be careful with what words I speak. Still, how do I do so without jeopardizing my own mental health?
It’s a dilemma I hold dear in my heart every day and have prayed for God to shed light on for me. Lately, what has helped me is a tenant I learned in graduate school. In social work, we learned we needed to meet clients where they’re at, not where they're supposed to be. I believe this same concept can be applied to my church, if not all of Christianity. I (we) need to keep my (our) eye(s) on the prize, but that doesn’t mean giving up entirely when the obstacle course towards progress is more difficult than expected.
I’ve realized that I have no right to be angry at my mom for not standing up for me. That’s not her job. I’m a competent adult and if I want this issue to be held as close to her heart as it is to mine, I need to speak up for myself. In addition, I occasionally get lightheaded during service when I look around at the pews and try to figure out what others would think if they knew about my sexuality. Yet, I’ve never actually given the members of my church a chance as I’m only out to my mother and a friend of mine in the congregation.
Professional colleague, friend of mine, and Just Women editor, Kathy McDowell, gave me hope by reminding me that love is always the bridge. The members of my congregation already love me. Maybe, just maybe, that love will be enough to surpass any stereotypes or prejudice they might have so they can accept me. Then maybe, just maybe, the next time they encounter a member of the LGBT+ community, especially a spiritual one, they’ll remember they love someone who is beautifully, openly, and proudly bisexual and Christian. And maybe, just maybe, instead of judgement, their love for me will shine instead and, ultimately, so will the love of God.
Maybe that’s what God’s calling is for me as a bisexual Christian. As Andrew (2000) explains regarding her intersectional identity between being bisexual and part of the Methodist Church:
My witness from inside its ranks is to divinity embracing diversity. Someone must stick around to hold the institution accountable to its original ministry. Someone must heal the wounds it has inflicted in the name of love. Someone must march jubilantly in the Pride Parade, throwing chocolate kisses toward the bystanders and shouting, “Hugs and kisses from the Methodist Church!” Perhaps it is my gift, to embody complexity and stand firm in the knowledge that we are all loved. (pp. 253-254).
I pray God continues to give me the strength to do the same.
Note: Blessed Bi Spirit is a peculiar book. The level of religious diversity in the book can definitely take you by surprise if you're not prepared for it, like me. However, I want to point out that I in no way agree with every point of view in it. It'd be impossible to since there are so many different opinions. Nevertheless, it's eye opening and a breath of fresh air when it comes to theological books about sexuality.
Andrew (2000). The fear of growing things. In D.R. Kolodny, Blessed bi spirit (p. 249-254). New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
Frank (2012). Counseling lgbtq americans. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.