Content note: Spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, homophobia
(If that song is stuck in your head now, you’re welcome)
So…this is the first post of the year on sexuality! Yay! Hopefully this will be the first of many in a series on fundamentalism and sexuality–specifically, how growing up fundamentalist affects queer women. I realize I’m probably only going to scratch the surface because attempting to untangle homophobia in the American Christian church in general could take a book, and I know my experience is not the only one. This is primarily introductory.
I am one of many struggling with sexual identity and battling not only homophobia or biphobia (will discuss gender identity briefly but later will do something more thorough) but also sexism/misogyny simultaneously as these are interrelated. I’ve only known that I was gay or at least that I wasn’t straight for about 5 years now. and gay is a quick answer that in no way fully explains my sexuality. It’s incredibly complex.
Fundamentalism is in short a particular sect of Christianity that believes in a literal interpretation of Scripture, usually King James Version of the Bible only in my experience, and very heavy on the women submitting to men not only in marriage but within the church whether single or not. Women aren’t supposed to hold leadership positions much less pastor or otherwise do anything in the church that would “usurp the authority” of a man. Samantha Fields, a blogger I follow does a lot of good work on this. Feminism is basically demonized and labeled “radical feminism.” So that’s fun to deal with.
Now, I didn’t realize that fundamentalism differed from any other Conservative Christian evangelicals until I went to college. I was also homeschooled from age 10 until I graduated high school, so that’s another layer. My dad was currently pastoring a small Southern Baptist church that was incredibly fundamentalist in practice. This was one of the darkest times of my life as I realized how dangerous legalism was to your spiritual health. It’s probably the closest I came to ending my life.
While I didn’t admit to myself that I was in some way queer until halfway through college, it’s not really new information to me. Especially when I began coming out to people who had known me for most of my life, who had watched me externally try to be straight, it was confusing/still is confusing for my parents and church I grew up in to process. I swear, queer kids should get Oscar’s for growing up fundamentalist and acting straight. Most people have no clue.
I didn’t know I was gay but now I just have a word to describe what I’ve been experiencing my entire life. Also, it’s not as simple as that for me so I want to talk about how not every LGBTQ+ person’s experience is comparable to someone else who identifies even in the same way. Not to mention if you grew up in a conservative fundamentalist home like I did, your experience may be very different from someone who grew up in a less conservative Christian environment.
SO! Let me explain why this is hard. I currently identify as gay but I also consider myself to be demisexual. Basically, I’m definitely attracted to women but I don’t really experience sexual attraction/romantic attraction until I’ve gotten to known someone and can emotionally connect with them. I do not quite understand celebrity crushes for the most part or the concept of one-night stands, going on dates with strangers, etc. (Also, gender non-conforming…another layer…) Previously, I had identified as bisexual as I was working through what label most made sense to me. In my early posts from two years ago, you’ll see that, and I won’t change it since it’s part of my journey.
My religious background being as repressive as it was makes it difficult as well for me to think of myself positively as a sexual being. Thank you, purity culture! When churches or any other institution requires LGBTQ+ people to repress a core part of their identity, it. is. harmful. I know, they think they’re being moral. I know they think being “right” and “biblical” is the most important. But they’re hurting us by telling us we should just resist our “temptations” with “same-sex attraction.” This is bullshit. Plain and simple. It reinforces deep hatred of self. I want to see my friends stay alive and live full lives with whomever they choose to love. And you all deserve that. I’m just tired of not feeling safe. It is exhausting to fight for a safe space in a place that should be one of the safest and most healing places. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting. If no one’s told you recently, God loves you and you matter. NO ONE has the right to make you feel unloved or unwanted.
Fundamentalism is a toxic thing. If you can leave, do it for your own safety and mental health. You do NOT have to stay in a toxic environment. I know some perhaps still living at home and in high school are going to find that option hard, but please get out if you can and reach out for support. There are times for meaningful engagement but not at the risk of harming yourself in the process. Anyway, sorry that was a bit of a rabbit trail.
I’m heartbroken that almost every LGBT person I know has at some point been suicidal and/or struggled with mental health. These types of faith communities usually care more about their image and protecting themselves than you. Your parents may even fall prey to this mentality that you’re a “sinner” who needs to be “fixed.” You don’t need to be fixed, friends.
Especially for us queer women, we often deal with the spiritual abuse and sexual abuse. Fundamentalist churches are practically breeding grounds for abuse of power. We don’t meet the standard for how the male leaders think a woman should be. We are both too much and not enough. They may vilify you. Exclude you. Invalidate your experience. But please reach out for support. Again, you are not alone.
I’m going to close with some resources that helped me come from a strictly conservative point of view with issues of sexuality to my more current, more queer liberation theology view. This is probably long overdue.
Most conservative places to start are with your gay celibate Christians (don’t read reparative therapy books that want you to change your sexuality. those are damaging and unless you’re researching the subject, just…don’t.):
Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill – Wesley Hill does a good job of humanizing the experience of the gay Christian specifically one who chooses celibacy.
Gay and Catholic by Eve Tushnet – Similar to Wesley Hill’s but gives the lesbian perspective that I found helpful at the beginning of my journey.
Is God Antigay? by Sam Allberry – This is actually the first I read. He’s advocating for calling himself same-sex attracted which I don’t like, but if you’re used to hearing homosexuality is sin…
Less conservative but sooo good:
Changing Our Mind by David Gushee – He started from an extremely conservative perspective and does a good job meeting conservatives where they are in the debate over same-sex relationships.
Torn by Justin Lee – Specifically deals with being gay and Christian and moving towards a more affirming position of same-sex relationships. I LOVE this one. It helped me move to being more affirming of myself. Also, he started Gay Christian Network which is much more inclusive than the name sounds.
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines – Good, good Scriptural defense of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships from a more conservative guy. Started The Reformation Project.
Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu – Jeff Chu interviews many people surrounding the debate of whether you can be LGBT and Christian. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
This Book is Gay by James Dawson – This is the most inclusive despite the title of those all over the spectrum of sexuality and gender. It’s not written by a Christian and it’s just wonderful. I would especially recommend this one for LGBTQ+ youth.
Edit: A few resources I forgot:
Unnatural: Spiritual Resiliency in Queer Christian Women by Rachel Murr
Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee