I grew up Catholic. Loosely. Both sides of my family are Catholic and my parents wanted us to have the exposure, but our house wasn't like my Christian friends houses. We didn't pray before meals, unless it was a holiday. I wasn't admonished for saying things like "Oh my God." I was allowed to watch R-rated movies,, listen to whatever music I wanted, and my mom read the likes of Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, not the Bible.
It was important to my parents that we grew up to be free-thinkers, and that's exactly what we became.
In middle and high school I went to church with my friends a lot, especially youth group. They went to various flavors of Christian churches and I loved it. I loved the singing and the activities and the community. I wanted to belong but I always felt a little different - a little like an outsider.
Was it because my family wasn't Christian? Was it because I didn't have the same strict rules they did? Was it because people I love are atheists and I couldn't get on board with the thought of them going to hell because they don't believe exactly as they're "supposed" to? Or was it that I was deeply closeted and knew, intrinsically, that if they knew who I really was, they wouldn't accept me?
I'm going to say it was a combination of all those things.
Despite being deeply involved in church for a long time, I eventually started creating space between myself and Christianity. It didn't fit. I didn't fit.
Once I decided it was okay to believe differently than the church says I should believe, my relationship with God started transforming in ways I could never have predicted. I finally had the space to sit with God and ask what it was I needed to hear without someone chirping in my ear about what the answer should be. I was able to start understanding myself and my place in the world more and more. I wasn't so worried all the time about getting it wrong. I could just be with God.
Somewhere along the way, I started realizing I might be gay.
"How do you not know you're gay?" Well, that's a question for another day, but I've got a lot to say about it (shocker).
I knew when I came out, my family would accept me wholly. I knew my closest friends would too. I also knew there were people in my life who would sit in judgement from afar, quietly praying for my redemption -- People who believe being gay is a choice and you can decide not to "act on it." People who believe anyone who is gay is lost and confused and straying from God.
The latter are the people who most need to understand what I'm about to say.
Existing in a world that would rather I be dead because of my sexual orientation is odd. I live in a country that, while many want to take away my rights, they can't legally kill me for walking down the street holding my girlfriend's hand. There are many places in the world where that's not the case. But I also live in a country that is trying desperately to make Christianity and the law synonymous, and if that happens, my community won't be protected, seeing as it's all very precarious to begin with.
That being said, I have always felt favored by God, like I hold a golden ticket to Heaven. Not in a way where I can do whatever I want, be a shitty person, and still get through those pearly gates, but in general, as long as I live my life as best I can, I'm good to go. I don't even feel like I need to understand or make any declarations about what Heaven and Hell even is. God tells me all the time that it's not my job to understand, it's my job to listen and live into who I was created to be.
Despite the trials I've been given, despite this body that is barely holding itself together, I know whatever happens, God has my back and deeply understands me and what I need. But I've also felt blocked in my relationship with God, like something was missing. Church never made it better. Being preached at never helped.
Unexpectedly, choosing to come out busted through that blockade and brought me closer to God than I've ever been. It's like choosing to own who I am, in this world that doesn't want me to, was some grand test I managed to pass.
I know who I was created to be. I know who I am, what I am, isn't a mistake or a sin. The only "choice" to make was whether I wanted to embrace who God created me to be, or stay hidden so I'm more palatable to the world.
Coming out offered a kind of freedom I'd been seeking my entire life. I no longer felt like some huge important part of me was trapped inside, but more importantly, I felt held by God. I felt whole.
There's no debate to be had about whether I'm right or wrong here. I know with every fiber of my being that I'm living exactly as I'm supposed to be living. Nothing about who I am is a mistake or a misunderstanding. There's no need to repent or hang my head in shame. God intended on me being this person, and who am I to disappoint?