At the age of 21, I was the first gay person I knew. I’m sure I had talked with gay people before; in fact, I know now that there were other LGBTQ people in my extended family, but at the time I realized I had a same sex attraction, I did not know one other person that was also gay. Throw in the fact that I was a Christian and it seemed I was the only person on the planet who was like me. When I look back at my life and try to find clues that would tell me I was gay, it only brings more questions. I had dated guys while growing up and liked men.
My first boyfriend, Nick was in 3rd grade and we were in love which mostly meant we would sneak holding hands during chapel at the Christian elementary I attended and passed notes during class. But by high school, there was a whirlwind of hormones and lots of kissing. This probably isn’t the best thing for a good Christian girl to admit to, but one summer my best friend and I had a competition to see how many guys we could kiss. I’m not sure how we hit these numbers but we both tied at 13. I looked as straight as they come! I even met one of my high school boyfriends on a missionary trip and when we got back home, we were on the prom court together. And these are just a few of the stories that add to the mystery of the shift that took place within me. No one, especially me, ever suspected I was gay. I can look back for clues and try to force connections to take place. Was a friendship with a girl ever too close? Did the thought of marrying a man feel somehow “wrong” to me? The simple fact remains, there were no clues that I would some day be a lesbian.
There were no spiritual clues either. What I mean to say is, my life wasn’t filled with satanic séances and secular beliefs. I grew up in a loving Christian family, going to church twice a week and finding close community with those who shared our Christ-centered beliefs. I went to youth group, on mission trips, was a youth group leader, Bible Study leader, and experienced my relationship with God as the most important thing in my life. For most of my life, I have felt a deep calling towards something and felt I was supposed “to do something great for God.” I’ve always had a very sensitive heart and so I took this calling seriously.
When it was time for me to go to college, instead of going to the expensive private Christian university I wanted to go to, I started off at our local state college. I longed to go away to school and study at a place where I could learn more about God, the Bible and connect with other Christians my age, but instead had to choose the more affordable road. At the time, I was working for my church and one of the pastors told me his daughter went to The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He explained that “if you can get in, every person gets a full ride and that all you have to pay for is room and board.” This was too good to be true! Even though I was terrified of the idea of leaving home, I felt this was my chance to continue to follow God’s call on my life. I applied, got in, and moved to Chicago mid-semester, which meant in the coldest, dreariest time of the year, January. I’ll never forget walking off the plane and feeling a cold I had never felt before. This California girl was experiencing the first of many shocks! Leaving my family and friends truly felt like a big piece of me was dying, but that’s just the way I had always lived, being willing to give up all I was and all I had for God. I don’t say this to sound super snobby, or goody two-shoes, but to show you the truth of my heart. If I hadn’t felt God moving me to pick up and head to Chicago, I wouldn’t have gone. Looking back, I wonder if I needed that distance in order to experience the fullness of who I was. Perhaps I felt God leading me to leave my home not to find more of Him, but to finally find myself; I’ve found that the experience of “finding myself” did end up leading me to more of God as well. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I want to slow down a bit and tell you more about this self-learning that happened while away at school.
What I began to find and experience was an attraction to other women. Some people know this kind of information about themselves when they are four or five, or when first hitting puberty. But for me it came much later on in life and was as if someone flipped a coin, totally out of the blue. It felt as if, one night I went to sleep straight and trying to figure out what guy in the dorms to flirt with, hoping to find a boyfriend-some-day-husband only to wake up the next morning filled with a deep attraction towards a girl in the dorm next to mine! One minute it wasn’t there and then next it was. Flip.
I quickly came to describe these new feelings as “struggling with homosexuality.” At that time, there were no conversations about “side A or B,” staying celibate as a gay Christian, or even such a thing as a gay Christian. I was a complete oddity, somehow, struggling with homosexuality. It was the worst possible thing that could happen and I believed it to be a deep, sinful flaw of mine with which I was “struggling.”
As you probably know, when Christians struggle with a particular sin, we are taught to do everything we can think of to get rid of, resist, and change this broken part of ourselves. Which is exactly what I did. I went to therapy, prayed constantly, fasted, had close friends fast, confessed my same-sex attraction to my pastor and even got engaged to a man. I wanted to do what was right and was willing to do anything to win the victory over my struggle and show God that he was all I wanted. What I wasn’t able to put into words then, but see very clearly now, was that more than an experience of struggling with something outside of myself, I very quickly began to feel as if who I was internally, inherently, was bad. It’s hard to describe what the pain is like when you feel like who you are, at the core needs to be resisted and is evil. It is not something you are doing, something external or even a behavior that can change. You. You are the problem. And I was my problem. Everyday was filled with pain for me.
It didn’t take long for depression, anxiety and self-harm to set in. In my mind, being attracted to women was the worst thing anyone could ever have inside them. There was even a season I began cutting myself. It was not a suicide attempt, even though I felt such despair and pain I would pray that God would take me out of this world, every day. The cutting was an attempt to manage the intense emotional pain. It felt like a relief to feel a kind of pain that I understood, could see in physical form, and control on some level. Many years later after I had become a professional therapist who works with people in very similar places as I once was, I now see people try their best to deal with the emotional crumbling that this kind of struggle produces – feeling like God hates you for who you are. It manifests in lots of different ways; eating/food issues, alcohol abuse, overuse of both legal and illegal drugs and the development of sleep disorders among many others. It’s not that a same sex attraction produces these things, or that homosexuality attracts mentally weak people. It’s that when a same sex attraction occurs within a Christian context and the person begins to identity the pressure they feel is inescapable that things begin to become unbearable. When we, as humans experience something unbearable, the way we deal with it many times gets messy. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of therapy and finding someone who knows their stuff enough to walk with you through this kind of process. I know it was a huge part of my journey.
You might be asking, “Candice, how did you go from a lost and depressed college student to a happily married, Christian lesbian, mother of two?” The thing that happened, the experience that completely changed my life and threw all of this on its head is that, I kissed a girl and knew God blessed me. It sounds awfully Katy Perry of me to say “I kissed and girl and I liked it…” but that’s literally what happened. I had believed for so long that if I ever kissed another woman I would feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit more than I ever had before. I believed that I would be overwhelmed with guilt and remorse and know how truly wrong it was but… that just did not happen! When I had my first kiss with another woman, I felt the blessing of God in such a real tangible way. I felt a deep confirmation that it was okay and that this was truly me in a way nothing had ever been before. I find myself trying to relate it to something tangible as a way of trying to better understand it. It felt as if I loved adventure and sailing and had been told my whole life that the world was flat and that I would surely fall off the edge and die if I ever left the safety of the bay. So rather than exploring the fullness of the ocean, I stayed in the safe waters close to shore. Until one day I had enough of the not knowing, got in my boat and sailed off towards the edge. I waited for the inevitable to happen, the death that I knew would surely come as I plummeted off the earth’s surface. But I wait and wait and wait and it never happened and instead I just kept sailing farther into the ocean, realizing whoever had told me that the earth was flat was either misinformed, or just simply lied to me. And like that, in a matter of seconds, boom, my MIND was BLOWN!
Where a lot of people go next is this place that questions whether I can be trusted. They say something like, “that all sounds good and well, but you know we can’t be trusted as humans. You just want it to be right. It’s fulfilling some selfish, sexual desire and you are being misled.” This kind of response takes me right to the garden, you know, the one with Adam and Eve. Yes, it’s true that darkness tempted them to do something they had been instructed not to do, but here’s the difference between what happened with them and what happen with me: they felt shame. They regretted what they did and had to hide because of that shame.
I believe shame to be a gift from God that helps us know when we’ve done something against His will. And that’s how I knew for me to be attracted to and live out a desire to be romantically connected to another woman wasn’t bad. I felt the opposite of shame. I felt love and peace and life. I felt God. I have done wrong things before and I know what the conviction of the Holy Spirit feels like, I know what that shame feels like that Adam and Eve experienced on that fateful day, and I didn’t feel it in any way as I kissed this other woman.
This experience changed my life in so many ways. One of the most important ways, was the amount of depression, anxiety and self harm that I experienced was deeply impacted. It was replaced by a long process of learning how to “come out” to myself as well as my friends and family. It wasn’t easy, nor pain free, but the pain came from outside of myself, not inside, which is a world of difference. For me when the pain changed from within to outside it felt much more manageable and bearable. I knew I could make it through because I had the blessing of God. It’s almost hard to put into words, but the shift was huge for me. There were still tears cried, but I no longer wished God would take me. Instead, I wished and prayed for more life. I wanted to live more fully and felt happy that I was connected to God and who I was more deeply than I had ever before. Thank God that I somehow found the courage to set sail! I found life and God and a deep happiness that I am forever grateful for.