Ed note: Many people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning within the Bob Jones University fundamentalist community are afraid to say their names publicly for fear of reprisal against their families who are involved in ministry, for fear of added strain or shunning within their family relationships, for the sake of a spouse or children, or for many other reasons having to do with the horrible stigma that is associated with homosexuality within fundamentalism. We hear from a great many of them and from time to time they ask us to publish their letters to the editor. These painful letters are yet another reason the rhetoric of homophobia needs to stop in our world. For every one who has the courage to write, we believe there are many more suffering alone in silence. The following letter came to us yesterday.
I was born to church-planting parents in 1989. They both graduated from a tiny conservative Christian college, and then my father went home to start a church. This particular college was very controlling and demanding, making Bob Jones University look questionably liberal in comparison. After a few years, my parents were cut off from fellowship, due to the paranoia, narcissism, and mental illness of the leader of their college and fellowship; effectively an ex-communication. My father eventually closed the church doors, and we found ourselves at another church an hour away.
In 1999, in between the ex-communication and the new church, we attended the World Congress of Fundamentalists, which was held at Bob Jones University. I spent three days in the day camp for the kids, making friends and thoroughly enjoying myself… and I had my first crush, on a girl a year older than me. She was so pretty and popular and nice. I had goosebumps when she brushed my arm and blushed when she said my name. I was nine, and also a girl.
As a kid, I was a ‘tomboy.’ I climbed trees, rode bikes, and played army with the boys in my neighborhood. I had few friends, as I was home-schooled and my parents were so separatist and conservative. I wanted desperately to be a boy, because I hated brushing my long hair, being expected to like ‘girly’ things (pink things, frilly things, itchy-lacy dresses), and of course, because boys could wear pants, which I imagined made climbing trees easier. I coped, pretending my bike was camouflage instead of pink, and always being a boy in my make-believe world, where I was busy being a pirate, or flying planes, or soldiering.
I read anything I could get my hands on, and when I had questions my parents didn’t answer satisfactorily, I would read to find the answer. When I was twelve or thirteen, I read an article on the development of sexual attraction during puberty. This article told me that same-sex attraction was a common experience of puberty, and not an indicator of a person’s nature, basically that most often, same-sex attractions would be simply ‘grown out of.’ This bit of information I stuck with for dear life. I developed attractions to boys and girls alike, but the like that I had for girls I ignored. When the like for girls or boys gave me squirmy feelings as I grew older, I would repent, praying (often hours of prayer) for forgiveness and change. It amazes me that I was able to ignore the gay in me for so long, because when I look back I think about all the crushes I had, and most of them were for girls.
When I was sixteen, one of my best friends graduated from High School and had her open house the day before she headed off for summer camps and then college, and I knew I would not see her again until Christmas. After her open house, I went home and cried for hours. I felt alone, abandoned, and confused. I tried to tell myself that I loved my friends all very deeply, and that was why I had the feelings for them that I did. I really did an awesome job at convincing myself that I was straight. But then, is it really that hard when you don’t really know any gay people, because your whole world is a homophobic church and Christian school? Being gay was an abomination, a judgement from God for having blasphemed the Spirit, and having a hardened and seared conscience, the reprobate mind. Of course I barely dared consider that I was gay. The thought was a frightening, scary abyss of possibility. The knowledge was buried deep in some dark recess of my mind. Eventually, I fell into love with my best guy friend. When we made love I was extremely relieved that I could have a ‘normal’ relationship.
After I graduated High School, I attended a year at Bob Jones University. I was really trying to live my life for God. I had a great year, mostly. I was always a good kid, and BJU gave me more freedom than I had ever enjoyed before. BJU was the logical choice for me; it was pretty much the only liberal arts college that my parents were ok with me attending. I say my year was ‘mostly’ great because of the ending. My year at BJU showed me that Christian Fundamentalism was a soul-rotting thing; I determined that God was not in it, and that I could not be a part of it. Further complicating this philosophical and spiritual awakening of mine was my sexuality. I was secretly engaged, and I was so desperate to be right with God, married to a man like I should be. I could not fight my same-sex attraction at BJU; in those dorms was constant temptation. A month before the end of the year, in a fit of anger and self-loathing, I struck out at the organization in my own odd way: I got around the filters on my personal laptop and pulled up a bunch of pornography. I did not view it for myself, I left it up on my screen, turned it to the wall, and went for a walk. I was ‘campused’* for the porn and asked to not return. At home, all hell broke loose, and I eventually eloped. My husband and I left the church together, left fundamentalism, and eventually, had to leave each other. My same-sex attraction was not the only reason we split up, but it was key. My advice for engaged couples (haha): don’t start questioning your sexuality and gender identity a year into your marriage; it really puts a kink into the relationship.
At this time I do not want to share my name; when I came out my parents threatened that I would be completely prevented from seeing or spending any time with my siblings if I ever was too open. They are teens now, one of them very possibly gay, and they need me. Also I am in love with someone who would be completely cut off from her family if she ever came out.
So here I am. I love and have loved women and men, and there is no more place for me in my former world. I don’t have a determined sense of being female. I feel like I’m playing a part when I dress femininely. I break a lot of the rules I grew up acknowledging, just by being myself. I have been told that I am a disgrace to my parents, and that I have shamed my family, just for coming out. My mother has expressed to me that I am the greatest disappointment of my parents’ lives.
These are all honest, precious, dear, hard working, God-fearing people that have expressed these sentiments. Sometimes I feel that it would be better for my family and my old friends and church family if I were dead. But then I think about all that ignorance and fear; I think about all the anguish I went through, learning who I am and how to live with myself; I think about one of my parents, who hinted at personal same-sex attraction secrets; and I get angry.
I am so full of anger and resentment and hurt. And I want things to change so desperately. I’m writing this right now and I’m crying so hard I can hardly see the screen. I didn’t expect tears for this. Things have to change. They have to get better. For me and for anyone else gay or questioning or just different. Maybe telling my story is a step towards change. Maybe this petition thing isn’t pointless. Maybe there are a lot more people who are supportive, or people who have learned that loving God doesn’t require hating certain people. And maybe I owe it to each and every one of us who has struggled with accepting ourselves to keep striving for that change.
Heffalump (an anonymous woman)
*Being “campused” at BJU means that a student has lost all privileges to leave campus for the remainder of the semester.